MANHATTAN, Kan. — Where is your favorite place that you have lived? It might not surprise you that Kansas isn’t usually my first response. Kansas is an acquired taste.
When I first moved here over a decade ago, I was not very excited about the landscape. I had spent most of my life in the northern United States with green, lush woodlands and lakes everywhere you look. Trees and lakes in Kansas seemed a joke to me. And the wind. It was wicked and vengeful; it never seemed to stop. I was not a fan.
At the time, I read a book about the early homesteaders in Kansas and those who survived the Dust Bowl. I remember wondering, “What did early homesteaders think when they got here? Is this it?”
After naming some great attributes of different places, my response to that question about favorites always ends up being, “I can be happy anywhere, there is something to love everywhere, you just have to decide you want to be happy.”
The people and strong agriculture industry in Kansas made it easy to love, and over the years, my appreciation of the state’s beauty has grown. There are two undeniably spectacular and quintessentially Kansas times of year I love.
In the north, late February and early March are filled with endless gray days and snowbanks or dirty slush everywhere you look. I think that is why it always feels like such a surprise to be driving through Kansas on a sunny day and realize the winter wheat has turned vibrant green overnight and grazing cattle suddenly appear across the countryside. It is a sight that stops me every year; renewing my joy and strengthening my soul.
Then in May and June, the Kansas sky becomes the star. As the wheat begins to turn golden and farm equipment rolls over the horizon sharing the stage with the setting sun, there is no way to accurately capture the beauty of colors that paint the sky. A wheat harvest sunset in Kansas makes fills me with awe every single time.
Enter 2020. The pandemic deleted so many a lot of events and activities that normally fill my calendar. This extra time allowed me to say yes to more time on the farm. I was available for daily activities like checking cattle and irrigators or riding along on a tractor during planting season. In addition, my back surgery in May required daily walking as part of my recovery and the pandemic encouraged social distance, I took advantage of the wide-open space available to me and began to walk the gravel roads near my house.
During those extra hours driving around the farm or walking the same gravel path, I started to notice little things I had never seen before while speeding past — all the animal tracks in the road, how crops grow and change every day, and where water gathers after a rain. I finally came to appreciate the wind’s cooling nature on humid, sunny days. My phone is now filled with pictures of the landscape because I was in constant awe of the beauty and power around me.
This summer when I slowed down, I figured out why homesteaders stayed and generations of farmers love this land. It’s a place where resilient crops and stout creatures withstand fierce weather conditions; a wide-open space that allows the most amazing views of the heavens.
Kansas doesn’t have big bold beauty that can be easily seen. It has subtle, detailed beauty that you have to stand in the midst of to feel. It takes patience to experience and time to appreciate.
— Jackie Mundt, Pratt County farmer and rancher, Kansas Farm Bureau
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