Tag Archives: Kansas

Sunday Snapshots: A walk on the prairie

Our weather station reported that today’s temperature reached 102.3 degrees. The air is thick with humidity, yet the ground is so dry the grass is brown and even the weeds are losing the will to live. But two weeks ago, parts of Kansas were blessed with heavy rains and mild temperatures, and Jim and I found ourselves at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

The movement of clouds create ever-shifting light and shadows on the prairie.

The TPNP is quintessential Kansas, one of the few places where you can experience giant views of native prairie. In addition to the original homestead and school, the park includes bison that graze in the pastures, and nearly 40 miles of hiking trails weave through acres of grasses and prairie flowers. The trails are open 24/7/365, and the lighting around the visitor center is thoughtfully designed to minimize impact on the night sky, making it a perfect place for stargazers and photographers.

Southwind Nature Trail.

Following Jim along the Southwind Nature Trail.

Because we didn’t have a lot of time that day, a park ranger recommended that we follow the Southwind Nature Trail and the spur to Lower Fox Creek School, a total of less than three miles of walking. Yet in such a short hike, we climbed hills, crossed a creek, spotted butterflies, and were surrounded by cheerful birdsong. It was good for the soul.

Wide Open Spaces

Sunday Snapshot: Shoaf Monument at Union Cemetery

The twin columns of the Shoaf monument at Union Cemetery in Douglas County, Kansas.

The twin columns of the Shoaf monument at Union Cemetery in Douglas County, Kansas.

We were on our way home from a weekend drive–the storm clouds to the east of this monument would eventually produce a tornado near Atchison, Kansas–when we spotted this unique monument. Twin columns, twin urns.

Twins. Lost.

The epitaph for Ulles Uriar Shoaf (April 17, 1866–October 26, 1882) and Susan Marria Shoaf (April 17, 1866–November 20, 1882), reads:

They were lovely and pleasant in their lives.
By death they were not long divided.
Twin Son & Daughter of
Solomon & Margaret
Shoaf

Appanoose Museum in Franklin County

JIm and I first noticed this charming school building on one of our weekend wanderings not long after moving to Franklin County a couple of years ago. It was only recently, though, that we discovered the building is still in use as a museum and community center.

Appanoose School continues to serve as a community center and museum.

Appanoose School continues to serve as a community center and museum.

The first thing we learned: this is not the original school building. The first school, designed by Ottawa’s own George P. Washburn, was built in 1919 and burned down in 1934. The current building is the second building, which was used as a high school until 1963, when the high school consolidated with Pomona. In its history, the building has also served as an elementary school and, at one point, the school taught kids from first through twelfth grade.

The original Appanoose High School, which burned down in 1934.

The original Appanoose High School, which burned down in 1934.

Today, the building serves as a community gathering place, a small free lending library, and a storage space for the new elementary school. The gymnasium floor is maintained and often used for practice. But Jim and I were there to see the museum, which is open on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This is truly a grassroots museum, a collection pulled together by a group of local history enthusiasts who wanted to preserve the story of Appanoose.

Appanoose was never a town, but rather a rural community. The museum shares the story of those who were brought together by Appanoose School, as well as the small surrounding communities, some of which only exist today in a church or cemetery name, like Richter and Greenwood. Displays also showcase rural life in the early 1900s.

A model of the Richter General Store.

A model of the Richter General Store.

Though not high-tech by any means, the displays are thoughtfully and cheerfully laid out, and despite having lived in Franklin County for more than two years now, I realized I still had a lot to learn about some of the smaller communities in the county’s history.

I was particularly charmed by a room filled with technological odds and ends, including a wonderful set of old typewriters and a telephone operator switchboard.

A telephone switchboard that was once in use in Franklin County.

A telephone switchboard that was once in use in Franklin County.

The museum also honors area veterans, and there are several displays about the local men and women from the Appanoose community who have served. There is also detailed display about James O. Baxter, a Pomona man who was shot down over Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, but whose remains were not recovered until 1999.

Admission to the museum is free, though donations are appreciated. The volunteers are truly interested in local history and are happy to answer questions. The museum is worth a look, and it’s a lovely introduction to the history of the northwest corner of Franklin County.

Sunday Snapshot: In the setting sun at St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park

I’m writing more about St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park later this month. In the meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite photographs of the plant life there, shot in the warm glow of the setting sun.

It looks a little like chamomile, but I think it's Daisy Fleabane.

It looks a little like chamomile, but I think it’s Daisy Fleabane.

Sunday Snapshot: Sharp-Morrison Cemetery

Sharp-Morrison Cemetery in Linn County, Kansas

Sharp-Morrison Cemetery in Linn County, Kansas.

It’s known as the Sharp-Morrison Cemetery, because the larger monument belongs to George J. Sharp (1809-1873) and the smaller one belongs to George J. Morrison (1871-1879). They are alone at the edge of a field, not far from where No. 15 School once stood, shielded by the ghost of a tree gone nearly as long as the two Georges.

Go read this book now: Waiting on the Sky by Cheryl Unruh

Waiting on the Sky: More Flyover People EssaysI try, really try, to articulate the soulful bond I feel with the Kansas earth and Kansas sky, but I doubt I will ever do it as skillfully as author Cheryl Unruh, a native Kansan whose second book, Waiting on the Sky: More Flyover People Essays, just hit the Kansas bookstore shelves earlier this month.

Unruh wrote a column for the Emporia GazetteĀ for more than a decade, and I rarely missed it. Even though her book is a compilation of those columns, she’s edited and arranged them in a way that makes them fresh and meaningful and provides a window into her own heart as well as the heart of every Kansan who knows what it means to pull over on a country road and look west because a sunset is too beautiful to ignore.

Waiting on the Sky is a biography, and Unruh guides us through her life and her relationship to the world around through carefully selected essays on community, death, childhood, and the act of being. Her pieces on lost family members, especially her father, are reverent, and I was particularly moved by her descriptions of the everyday moments with her father–maintaining the local cemetery, working in his woodworking shop.

Waiting on the Sky is also the story of the bond between Kansans and the earth and the sky, and why, once we have that connection, we’re loathe to want to live anywhere else because Kansas is part of who we are. Or, as Unruh writes, “The skies over Kansas have absorbed our stories, our conversations…Our existence here has been noted. This geography holds our biography.”

If you’ve ever felt a little weepy at the magnificence of the Kansas prairie, if you’ve ever felt your worries blow away while watching the the wind push the clouds across the sky, if you’ve ever found your inner peace driving down a gravel road without another soul passing you by–you’ll find your kindred spirit in Cheryl Unruh and Waiting on the Sky.

Sunday Snapshots: Weather and wandering in southeast Miami County, Kansas

Our drought-plagued state breathed a small sigh of relief this past week as rainstorm after rainstorm swept through much of the state. It’s not enough rain to repair the damage of several dry years, but it’s helping. Between the storms, Jim and I have found ourselves wandering the countryside and enjoying the late spring weather, especially in the evenings. Yesterday, we wandered around southeast Miami County, which is currently lush and green. The rural landscape is dotted with old cemeteries and a handful of tiny towns, though our truck’s brakes got a workout as deer, loose cows, and rabbits dashed across the gravel roads.

Wednesday Evening Storm in Ottawa, Kansas

Wednesday night: In a matter of minutes, this rolled into my neighborhood Wednesday night.

Wednesday evening storm in Ottawa, Kansas

Those clouds were followed by this.

Last night was lovely, so we jumped in the truck and went for a drive with no particular destination in mind. We found ourselves on our way to Miami County, and as we drove past Princeton, we saw a sun dog near the water tower.

Sun dog near Princeton, Kansas water tower

As we drove through Southwest Franklin County, we spotted sun dogs in the sky near Princeton.

In Miami County, we discovered an old country cemetery. Spring Grove Quaker Cemetery was established in 1860, and it was especially picturesque in the setting sun.

Many of the headstones have weathered well, and their art, as well as the epitaphs, are still visible.

And just before the sun sank completely, we were treated to miles and miles evening primrose blooming along the gravel roads of Miami County.

Evening Primrose in Miami County

Evening Primrose blooms along Miami County roads.