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Brothers, Hills, and the Way Home

By Dan Patrick

 

Tuttle Creek damMy brother’s red Monte Carlo coupe glides west on Highway I-70 towards Wichita. He has picked me up in Manhattan, where I attend K-State, on his way from Lawrence, where he attends KU. It's Saturday and we’re both going home for the weekend.

I'm used to making the trip home to Wichita by myself. The two hour drive is a simple one to make – I change highways four times and the longest stretch of the drive is on a two-lane highway with few cars and much picturesque scenery. What's more, the trip allows me time to escape my otherwise busy existence, listen to music, relax and reflect on my life. Hence, the trip has become a very personal experience for me, and I'm glad to be sharing it with my brother.

Sam and I have always been close, but lately I feel like our relationship has been strained because of a new girlfriend of his that takes up a lot of his time and the fact that he is going to college at KU. I hope the trip will allow us to catch up and strengthen our relationship.

It's early September and the sun shines warmly above. The sky is creamy blue and the clouds streak the sky in thin, light puffs. The Flint Hills' undulating terrain is smooth and wholly uninterrupted, except for the occasional sharp ridge protruding from the ground. Greens, yellows and whites abound as far as the eye can see. Trees balloon out from the sides of the highway, their foliage hanging daintily above the road. It's such a beautiful day, Sam and I simply take in the scenery and only occasionally speak to each other. The trip continues.

As we pass Fort Riley, a particularly large hill rises in the east. Its surface is pocked with swells and depressions and all kinds of grass and weeds. I point out a large artillery cannon at the peak of the hill and Same cranes his neck to see it. The cannon is large, long and dull black, strikingly different from all the natural beauty that surrounds it. It is one of the interesting sights that comprise the trip.

Another is the little town of Abilene that you pass through changing highways from I-70 to Kansas Highway 15. Highway 15 runs through the middle of Abilene and the small town expands outward from either side of it. Abilene is quaint and unassuming with few big stores and small American flags that hang from every light pole on its main street. Even though I've never lived in Abilene, having driven through it so many times, I feel I have gotten to really know and understand the town and now look forward to driving through it every trip.

After passing through Abilene, it is but 30 short minutes to Newton and then Wichita, but the scenery and the beauty do not let up. While the terrain levels out, it is still just as beautiful. Horses and cows graze in large groups all about, their movements slow and methodical, their tails sashaying either way rhythmically. Round bales of hay stud the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. I realize that is something quite special about this particular expanse of land, Sam and I both try and we cannot see a single building or house in any direction. The only thing that breaks the otherwise uninterrupted horizon is the occasional metal silo, a shimmering steel sentinel of the prairie. On the last leg of our trip, we are able to tell we have passed through different towns by the cemeteries that occasionally reside at either side of the highway. I always try to imagine the amount of history contained in the cemeteries of these small towns.

I know the trip is close to ending when Sam and I see a highway running east to west that I know is I-235 which will take us past Newton and into Wichita. I always herald this first glimpse of the highway with mixed emotion – happiness that I'm about home and a certain amount of sadness that the trip is about over.

While Sam and I have spent the majority of the trip listening to music and gazing out our windows, I can't help feeling closer to him. Even though he may not realize it, to me we just shared a very personal experience – the trip and Kansas.

 

 

 

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Last Updated January 13, 2009
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