Known as both Pioneer Cemetery and Baldwin City Cemetery, this Douglas County burial ground’s first interment was in 1858 on land not far from a then-still-active Santa Fe Trail. The sign at the entrance highlights the native wildflowers on the grounds. It is poignant that many of the markers bear flowers, too.
Ottawa, Kansas was scoured by a two-hour-long storm that dumped nearly five inches of rain before it moved on. With so much rain, the birds and bugs were all scrambling to get out of the water. The normally hidden rolly pollies were just hanging on in the backyard after the rain had passed.
This weekend, 50 of us authors signed books at Town Crier Bookstore‘s annual Author Extravaganza in Emporia, Kansas. I hopped onto old U.S. 50 to take a slower, more scenic ride back to Ottawa.
It was definitely scenic. I found myself driving right under a squall line churning its way north as I crossed into Coffey County. It was scary and majestic and darkly beautiful.
Ask the average Kansan to point out the closest cave and they’ll probably point east to Missouri. According to the Kansas Geological Society, the Kansas landscape includes several hundred little caves. While exploring southwestern Franklin County, we found this little cave carved out by Whisky Creek near the corner of Kingman Road and Georgia Road.
One weekend ago, Jim and I were following the historic driving tour of northeastern Franklin County. The golden fields were beautiful, but the land was dry, so dry. The creek beds were filled with dying weeds; the ponds were waterless cracked craters.
Kansas is in a drought. When Kansas is in a drought, all of that beautiful golden grass amounts to acres and acres of kindling.
She just had to shoot off her fireworks.
According to the Ottawa Herald, the fireworks stand owners wouldn’t allow her to shoot off her fireworks in their parking lot. So she drove up the road and lit her loot.
Kansans have a love/hate relationship with prairie fires. Controlled, they’re a valuable tool in renewing fields, burning out brush and returning minerals to the soil. Uncontrolled, they can mean economic, ecological, and physical disaster. Photographer Larry Schwarm has captured their mesmerizing magnificence. But the can also be very dangerous, moving too fast for people or animals to outrun.
Sometimes prairie fires are started completely by accident. A lightning strike. An errant ash caught in the wind. An overheated car pulled to the side of the road.
Her fireworks set off a blaze.
Nearly 40 acres were scorched. A hay field and thousands of dollars worth of hay bales were incinerated. A field recently planted with soybeans was destroyed. Little animals, like rabbits, were asphyxiated trying to escape. And 15 firefighters suffered injuries while battling the fire on a 101-degree day.
An elderly couple driving a white sedan pulled up with our truck as we studied the still smoldering fields.
The woman sat behind the wheel, shaking her head at the remnants of the field as the little old man next to her stared, open-mouthed, at the destruction. She told us that she lived on the other side of the highway. “I’ve never seen anything like this here,” she said. “I hope the person who is responsible for this pays.”
It could just as easily been her land. Her fields.
The fire was contained. Compared to other fires burning in Colorado and Western Kansas, it was small. But to the owners of those fields, to the animals who couldn’t escape, it was still a total loss.