Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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Kansas Smells Like Home

12/20/2010 11:21:12 PM

Tags: Kansas, San Francisco, Tallgrass Prairie, Taos, Bryan Welch

Nearly 30 years ago I temporarily vacated my job, my apartment, my family and my relationship with my girlfriend. With my friend Doug Conarroe, I set out on a month-long quest to find the perfect place to live my life.

I don’t know if I ever admitted it out loud at the time, but my personal goal was to pick the perfect place to settle down and craft an existence based on my 22-year-old understanding of my “identity.”

Beautiful and Abundant 

Doug and I set out in his Toyota one morning in late summer down Interstate 25 from Boulder through Colorado and New Mexico. We crossed Arizona westward on Interstate 10 and followed Highway 1 most of the way north up the West Coast from San Diego to Vancouver, then picked our way back east across British Columbia, down through Montana and Wyoming and finally home to Boulder. We saw about 1,000 longitudinal miles of the Rocky Mountains not to mention the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Bernalillo, Organ and Franklin Mountains, the Superstitions, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sonoran Desert, Death Valley, the San Francisco Bay, the Puget Sound, Vancouver Island and Glacier National Park. We camped out on the beach at La Jolla and in an Oregon downpour. After nearly a month of wandering around Doug and I both grew tired of the road and we headed south from Kalispell, Mont., in a hurry to get back to Colorado. A Montana state patrolman saw us bombing down the opposite side of a divided Interstate and wagged his finger at us.

I decided I would settle down in Taos, N.M., for life, and I almost did. I lived there for most of the 1980s and discovered that the place really did reflect my identity, until my subsequent identity as a husband and father dictated that I find a locale where I could make a little more money.

My family and I lived in seven other far-flung places trying to meet that goal – but that’s another story.

The runner-up in my 1981 search for a home base was Marin County, California. I thought – and still think – that San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world. I love the grassy hills and the steep shoreline, the fog and the sunshine, the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding mountains, vineyards and quaint little towns.

I spent last week in Tiburon, one of those quaint little places, on business. I stayed in a hotel on the waterfront. From the hotel deck you can see straight across 18 miles of San Francisco Bay to the city skyline. Angel Island is less than a mile away. Mount Tamalpais towers over the opposite side of town. Commuters thread back and forth to the city in cars, on bicycles and by passenger ferry. In 1981 I thought the place was groovy. I still think so. It’s transcendently scenic, the air smells sweet and the weather is therapeutically friendly to the human body.

But I had to get out of there as soon as my meetings were done. I took a late flight home Friday and got in around Midnight. The cows needed to be fed.

Saturday I was on the tractor moving hay in the parched 14-degree Kansas frost with a smile on my face.

I have business interests that take me back to the Bay Area often. Friends and associates there are frankly skeptical of my chosen lifestyle, toting hay and chopping ice on the Great Plains. I could, in some alternate universe, have been sipping a cappuccino on my deck in Tiburon or Sausalito or Mill Valley Saturday morning.

But I’m certain that I was happier on the tractor that day.

Kansas was, of course, not on the itinerary of my scouting trip back in 1981. I was not considering a future on a Midwestern farm. I’m pretty sure that I would have recoiled from the thought. At the time I had some snobby ideas about mountain scenery.

Kind destiny eventually introduced me to the tallgrass prairie, which now smells sweeter to me than Colorado pine trees, the Taos sagebrush or Marin County’s eucalyptus-scented mist. Kansas smells like home.

Doug and I spent time with lots of friends and acquaintances on our tour of western North America. The people along the way taught us various ways of appreciating the places they lived: stoking a juniper fire on a cool New Mexico morning; enjoying a nice bottle of wine in California; hiking a brushy trail in Montana grizzly-bear country.

Maybe the most important lesson of the trip came from seeing various people engage, in passionate ways, with their environments. Overtly, people often seem to be saying, “See, this is why I live in this terrific place.” But more to the point, they are demonstrating HOW to live a terrific life in that particular place.

I set out to find an ideal locale, back when, but I was lucky enough eventually to discover a great lifestyle. Whoever you are and wherever you live, that’s more valuable than the zip code.


Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .

For further optimistic discussion about our future, read Beautiful and Abundant by Bryan Welch and connect with Beautiful and Abundant on Facebook. 



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Post a comment below.

 

Joe tully
8/8/2011 12:15:11 PM
Hi Bryan it's Joe! I wonder if you remember me from england!? I've have been reading your intriguing blog. I recognise some of the photos from caroline's iPad! I have just googled you and it came up with " bryan welch: editor of mother earth news, Eco-friendly matter fighter and author of rancho cappuccino blog" so I decided to check it out. Hope to see you soon.

DKR_4
1/31/2011 11:46:46 AM
Yes living in Kansas is a very positive thing to do as long as you can ignore the politics of the extreme right that are taking over. It is hard to ignore the attacks on education, the arts and almost any social concern. This is so unKansas, we were one of the birthplaces of the populist movement, we have had great liberal and innovative governments in the past, but not now. This is so unlike the individual Kansans I know who are good, compassionate people but when faced with the issues vote for the most restrictive and "so called conservative" ideas on the ballot.

Nightmare
1/26/2011 11:28:06 AM
My Great, great, great Grandfather paid 20 bucks for 80 acres of farmland in Shirley township Kansas in 1857. For those keeping score at home that is 5 years BEFORE Kansas became a state and my uncle is farming that, and 1000+ other acres of farmland to this day. I have lived in California, from teh Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada's, from Southeastern KS to my home now barely across the river in MO. I still register my vehicle there as I own land, Kansas will always be home. The smells, the people, the sense of responsibility for ones actions, the fact that it rates in the top 20 for smartest kids in the union, and the simple fact that when your roots are mired so deeply you actually feel it in your bones, Kansas is HOME! Just don't tell everyone that because then they will all want to move there and we'll end up like Chicago, crowded, corrupt, and loud.

Allison Fine_1
1/17/2011 1:34:06 PM
I love this piece. I, too, did a "writer's odyssey" from 1996-2007--I spent 8 years lviving in the west--Montana, Utah and Arizona and did quite a bit of traveling and driving around the amazingly beautiful vistas of our country's west. I didn't get to the Northwest, Canada or California, as you did, but someday I hope to if life permits. However, after all this beautiful living and working and traveling was"over", due to economic reasons mainly, I "ended" up here in Chicago--the last place I thought I would ever live! I am originally from Michigan so I more or less swore off the midwest as a place I would ever settle, and I still have my sights set on living in New York City before I die! However, here I am in Chicago and I have decided that not only do I love the sight and smell of my city on the lake, but that it is totally possible to live a VERY FRUGAL GREEN life here--maybe more so than most of those gorgeous places out west! For one thing, I don't need a car and I don't own one! For two, I live in 2 organized, lovely and efficient rooms that hold all my 2000 books and all my clothes and even my desk, computer and keboard! A nice little "cave" for the writer/musician that I am. My electric bill is $19/month, my wireless access is $20/month, my rent is under $700, I am 1 block from the train and the bus to take me anywhere in town, I am 1 block from shops and stores and restaurants--I can walk just about anywhere to get what I need! This is the green life!

Susanne Still/BlueJaguarMedicineArts
1/17/2011 1:08:27 PM
I love this topic of what it takes for a human being to find a true sense of home, a sense beyond the zip code or the ego-image that is attached to being in one of the "cooler" places. I spent many years living between Taos, New Mexico, and Maui, Hawai'i, two places both full of mojo, natural forces that seem sentient and intelligent, and opportunities to experience this type of symbiotic merging of human and planet. Yet one fine day destiny brought my family to a property high in the mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest, an old New Mexican farm that has been in one family for many generations "before there WAS a government, before there WAS a national forest....". In this place we are learning high altitude farming, making medicinal gardens, doing art, healing, and drumming, and communing with the eco-system in such a way as to feel it changes us on some really fundamental, DNA sort of level. We are snowed in for five months out of the year, and for the first time in our previously middle-american based lives are experiencing what it means to be in one place 24/7. I tell you, reality changes in so many amazing ways when one finds a place to really stay put and see what can happen with a few seeds and prayers! It is so worth it to explore one's world with the same intention Bryan Welch describes. Finding "home" is profound, as our Mother Earth is here to grow humans well when the right links are established.

Sherry_17
1/17/2011 12:54:59 PM
I am Kansas born and raised. I have visited several places in the country...and I have to say in my opinion, not an ocean, not a mountain, not a skyline can hold a candle against Kansas sunsets and the beautiful flint hills. I am happy to be from here, and whenever I go...as soon as I cross over to Kansas and see the green/gold of a Kansas wheatfield or prairie grass, I breathe a sigh of joy, and say in my heart, Now THAT is beauty.

Jaymes J.W.
1/6/2011 10:14:13 AM
Having grown up in Kansas, and traveled all over the US and into Mexico, I can say, like the writer, there are many places with beauty to be awed. The Redwoods of California, the sunrises and sunsets of the Painted Desert, the Bayou with its mystic-like fog, and the friendly people of Mexico, but for some reason, every time we came driving past the Iron Red dirt of Oklahoma or past the Rockies of Colorado, and back within the state lines of Kansas, it was the same rosey-pinks and yellow-orange hues of the Kansas sunset that I never wanted to be too far from. Living in Wichita now, I often drive out to my parent home north of the city and sit outside grilling in my parent’s garden, laughing and joking with them and my brothers about our travels. We almost always pull out the telescope to see the stars, and I can honestly say nothing will ever beat that feeling of connection to the Earth. There’s no sprawling bright-lit city skyline to block the view, no smog to hide the Milky Way, no rush of cars, just silence! LA, Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, KC, Denver....they can be fun, but the loss of connection I've experienced there within those cement, glass and steel passageways, always brought me back home to Kansas! Perhaps even after my life’s travels are done, and I have moved away with my husband, I will be a ghost of this dirt, because I have never felt as connected to this Earth anywhere as much as I have here!

Jaymes J.W.
1/6/2011 10:08:24 AM
Having grown up in Kansas, and traveled all over the US and into Mexico, I can say, like the writer, there are many places with beauty to be awed. The Redwoods of California, the sunrises and sunsets of the Painted Desert, the Bayou with its mystic-like fog, and the friendly people of Mexico, but for some reason, every time we came driving past the Iron Red dirt of Oklahoma or past the Rockies of Colorado, and back within the state lines of Kansas, it was the same rosey-pinks and yellow-orange hues of the Kansas sunset that I never wanted to be too far from. Living in Wichita now, I often drive out to my parent home north of the city and sit outside grilling in my parent’s garden, laughing and joking with them and my brothers about our travels. We almost always pull out the telescope to see the stars, and I can honestly say nothing will ever beat that feeling of connection to the Earth. There’s no sprawling bright-lit city skyline to block the view, no smog to hide the Milky Way, no rush of cars, just silence! LA, Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, KC, Denver....they can be fun, but the loss of connection I've experienced there within those cement, glass and steel passageways, always brought me back home to Kansas! Perhaps even after my life’s travels are done, and I have moved away with my husband, I will be a ghost of this dirt, because I have never felt as connected to this Earth anywhere as much as I have here!

Thea K
12/22/2010 11:56:53 AM
Being born and raised in Kansas, I too always assumed I would run the second I turned 18... and then it became the second I graduated from college... and then it became the second I came back from travelling abroad... and then it became when my boyfriend graduated from school... and now I think I might just find a piece of land for my own right near home. I just miss the horizon line too much when I'm gone, I think you know you're a Kansan if not being able to see the horizon in a 360 degree circle around you when you walk outside makes you nervous.

KAY HUGHES
12/21/2010 8:40:47 PM
I was born and raised in Kansas, that farming in just in the blood. I have been trying to make my little patch of KY into KS for 20 years, everyone keeps telling me I not in KS anymore, but my very being is still there. The smell of wheat at harvest, the smell of rain coming and that cattle pasture, now I'm home sick, Kansas will alway smell like home.







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