Those Who Have Hearts, Let Them See

Increasingly, I’m coming to believe that it is enough that the world IS. In that simple statement there is as much wonder as can be found in any theological or scientific formulation of its origins, and as profound a mystery as any koan or philosophical argument could either contain or express.

Grand Lake II

Sunrise over Grand Lake, Oklahoma

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Looking out on the North Sea, Holy Island, Northumberland, UK

Seeking a desert place...

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

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Mother Neff State Park, Texas

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Durst Bros. Farm, Bates County, Missouri

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Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma

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Linn County, Kansas

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West Point Cemetery, Bates County, Missouri

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Trimontium

The site of the Roman fort Trimontium, England

The road to Melrose

The road to Melrose (Scotland)

Cairngorms

Above Braemar, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Whatever be the lenses through which you view these scenes–whether it be as the work of an intelligent designer, or as the result of millennia of evolutionary progress and change–the one fact upon which we have no choice but to agree is that we all live here together, and together we stand or fall. There is no stronger bond. We are a family, we the human race, and we have a home for which it is our responsibility and privilege to care. It is a beautiful place, a home filled with never-ending surprise and delight, always one more trail to follow, or one more mountain to climb, just to see what awaits beyond. It is a monumental abode, filled with many rooms–many lands, many cultures, many histories–and if we know the secret of seeing, we will never tire of its offerings…

Past Prologue

The old barn.

The blue gate. In the foreground, there used to be a red hay barn in which we grandkids used to play. Climbing on piles of hay bales may not be wise, but it sure was fun. Sadly, the barn was torn down several years back to keep it from collapsing under its own weight…

Cows and trees.

V and Francie’s old place (or what’s left of it).

The road less traveled…

The LaCygne power plant. One of my favorite sights from the farm. On a still, cold day the plumes go on forever…

Hay bales. Sometimes they take up so much space that they look like herds of buffalo…

The government tried to assign street numbers to the rural roads several years back. Didn’t go so well. The farm’s still sitting right where it used to, on Rural Route 3…

We all have places that awaken in us stirrings of memory, where every detail holds for us immense significance (even if the source of that significance be insignificant on a global scale). The Durst family farm does this for me. No matter where I am in the world (and I have been many places), this plot of earth calls me back and reminds me of who I am and where I (and those before me) came from. It speaks to me–I heard its voice as a child, and I hear it still, the insistent tones of something both fundamentally human and fundamentally natural, the fulcrum in the connection between humankind and the earth we call home. I am not a farmer, but I come from farmer’s stock–I do not feed the world, but I belong to the line of those who have. Whether or not I ever lay hand to plow, the hands that did are an integral part of who I am, and I cannot understand myself without first understanding them…

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Southeast of the old house lies a field I have traversed dozens of times, from childhood through the present. At the moment it is planted, but since I can remember it has been used as pasture, and venturing across was for neither the faint of heart nor the fancy of footwear. One eye to the horizon, one eye to the ground–those of you who have spent any amount of time on a cattle farm will know what I mean by that. To the left runs Miami Creek, winding its way toward the southeast and the Marais des Cygne, and beyond that, the Osage. To the right, an old, crumbling barbed-wire fence (three strands against straying stock) divides the Durst land from their neighbors to the south. When I was very, very young, it belonged to a couple named V and Francie, at whose house I spent many an hour, staring through the grating in the living room floor into the basement (which hole for some reason I found extremely fascinating). The old house burned in 1998 or ‘9; now all that remains are a few lonesome outbuildings and a water tower or two.

If I had a dime–as the saying goes–for every time I’ve wandered off down one of the gravel roads surrounding the farm, the good old “mile roads,” I’d be a rich man. Financially, at least. In some ways, the mere fact that I have had access to these out of the way avenues fills me with feelings of a different kind of wealth. Everything around me moves so fast: weekday becomes weekend becomes weekday again, clouds fly overhead like some sort of time-lapse film, and it’s hard even to keep up with myself. Which is why walking these lanes bears such an attraction to an overburdened soul supercharged with an overactive mind. Here time almost ceases to lapse, at least for me. I’m transmogrified, alchemized, into my childhood self, waiting impatiently beside the cattle chute for Grandpa and a chance to “steer” the tractor across a pasture or two. I’m young again, ready for a mad dash through pig-puddles in search of the “peepers” called forth by a night of gentle rain, or for a channel-cat hunt at one of the myriad watering holes/stock-ponds scattered around the property. I’m ME again, washed clean of the intervening years of experience, heartache, and “knowing better.” And for an instant–just a brief fleeting instant before I remember who I am–I feel the grip of immortality, given force by my own tarrying ghost which will, I hope, haunt these backroads long, long after I am no more…

Research Trip, Day 2

I tend to be something of a pessimist when it comes to complicated plans and seat-pant-pilot endeavors (even though the latter describes well most of what I do). Take, for example, my four-day trip to Greeley, Colorado, to interview a Presbyterian priest for my Master’s thesis–you know, the trip where I took my little mini-recorder and forgot to press record. A whole day’s worth of conversation down the tubes, since of course, having relied upon the gadget, I failed to write anything down. Lesson learned; still a snafu. So, when I got up on Thursday morning (day two of my trip), I had no idea what to expect (or do) and every conviction that it would all go horribly, terribly wrong. Would I once again–metaphorically–forget to press record?

Imagine my surprise when, at the end of the day, I looked back on a series of (mostly) successful efforts to forward my project. Outside of a somewhat irritating encounter with a grouchy old man at the Chamber of Commerce, all went well and productively.

My first order of business took me to the Butler Chamber of Commerce (and, no, not to the old grouchy guy…yet). The first time I was there, I went in search of the aerial photograph of the “Butler–Shine On” event I mentioned in an earlier post. I’m hoping for this to be the centerpiece of the book. It was, after all, the image that set me on this path to begin with: the perfect shot of community in action. If we could arrive at a place where more people could come together for more efforts such as this (however ridiculous outsiders might believe them to be), we’d be heading somewhere useful–instead of rolling down the highway like an isolated snowball headed for a virtual hell…

Having achieved my first goal (and in nice, large format), I decided to re-familiarize myself with the Bates County courthouse (finally complete after what seems two or three decades of renovation) and Butler’s square. Here are the results:

From the east.

The old BC National clock.

From the northeast.

From the north.

Honoring the first engagement of African-American Union troops of the Civil War, at Island Mound, Oct. 29, 1862.

Where City Hall used to be (no, not in the water tower--in the little building beside it...)

From the northwest.

West side of the square.

Southside Cafe

From the south.

Gazebo view.

Random presidents. Not really sure about that one...

Next came lunch with Brian Phillips, executive director of the group that runs the Poplar Heights Living History Farm and the Family History Center, who has graciously consented to act as co-author (not being strictly a local, the Arcadia policies require that I find a co-author who is). Lunch at the Flaming Lantern (http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/210/1064263/restaurant/Missouri/Flaming-Lantern-Butler). It’s been a while since I ate there, and it has really never been one of my favorite places, but I have to say that it wasn’t at all bad. They’ve added a sports bar to the place since Tammy and I left town (which for Butler is tantamount to the repeal of Prohibition). One thing that must be said for them: Get the Suzy-Qs. The rest of you might know these as curly fries. By any name, they are quite simply spectacular. Seriously, if you’re ever headed up or down Highway 71 (or I-49, as they’re getting ready to call it), give ’em a try. East side of the highway, north side of the road (across from the abomination that is the new Wal-Mart).

After lunch came the second visit to the Chamber to drop off a copy of the Arcadia proposal. Enter grouchy old man. Exit Vance, quickly. ‘Nuff said.

Then it was off to the Bates County Museum, but on the way a quick stop at the Stop Light Market (two words, not one). Another place to stop if you’re ever in Butler, especially if you like odd handmade foodstuffs. The market is run by a Mennonite family from the Rich Hill area, and carries everything from cornmeal to gum drops. I picked up a small bag of honey-roasted soybeans (not a fan favorite) and another small bag of okra chips (which are absolutely fantastic). Bigger bag next time…

The Bates County Museum, from which I hope to obtain some of my older images, used to be located on the southeast fringe of the square. Now, it it housed in what was once the Poor Home (what Dickens might refer to as the “work’us,” and Butlerites lovingly refer to as the “nut house”), on the outskirts of town to the west. (http://home.earthlink.net/~bcmuseum/id6.html) It is a lovely two-story, red brick structure dedicated to the history of Bates County from its beginnings in 1841, through the Civil War and Order No. 11, up to the present. During my visit, I became a card-carrying (sans card) member of the Bates County Historical Society, and met the sitting president of the Cass County Civil War Round Table. Goes to show, you never know what’ll happen in the course of a day.

Next stop: Oak Hill Cemetery, home of the world’s smallest tombstone (according to the Ripley’s folks). It belongs to Linnie Crouch, presumed infant, called by some a boy, by others a girl. No one knows. Some Internet death certificate research over my father-in-law’s shoulder (man KNOWS his stuff) indicates that Linnie’s parents MAY have been Daniel Crouch and Belle Miller, but beyond that (which is far from certain), and a story which credits his father with the carving of the headstone, all that remains is a small, stone Bible with little Linnie’s name on it. A mystery, dated April 25, 1898…

Smallest tombstone in the world.

To cap off a long day of hand-shaking and amateur photography, two final stops. First, a nice panoramic view of Passaic, a town numbering 40 in 2009 (and according to some counts, 2 in 2011), between Butler and the family farm. Here’re the pictures. Pretty much what you see is what you get: an intersection…

After braving the overpass...

And this one, just because I thought it was cool.

And, finally, a quick jaunt out to the Island Mound battlefield, some 11 miles southwest of town. There’s a grand opening coming this October, to mark the 150th anniversary of the engagement, and one assumes more will be added to the aspiring state park, but for the moment it is pretty much a pasture with a sign stuck in it:

Island Mound on a gray day...

 On October 29, 1862, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers took on a larger Confederate force in the first Union action of the Civil War carried out by a unit composed solely of African American soldiers. Multiple perspectives confuse the issue a bit (with some Confederate reports suggesting the total annihilation of the Kansas Volunteers), but the consensus of late is that the day went ultimately to the smaller, Union regiment. I’m still in the middle of learning about this battle myself, so I won’t throw out too much (possibly misleading) detail just yet, but if you’re interested, here’s a web site for you: http://www.mocivilwar.org/history/battles/island_mound.html

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Here endeth my first day of research and relationship-building. At the moment, things are stalled as I await news of the project’s reception by the national offices of Arcadia Publishing. I’m told that news may arrive by the end of the week, and I’m about as nervous as it is possible to be. I realize that for some this experience of mine may not seem too terribly important, but to me it is the next step toward achieving a goal I set for myself in junior high (if not earlier). It is destiny, and it is calling. For those of you with children, think about those nine months leading up to the birth, and you’ll know roughly how I feel right now. Not to put too fine a point on things, the future seems pregnant with possibilities that quite recently seemed beyond the realm. So, cross your fingers with me if you care to, and we’ll see what happens…