A Short Cut to Kansas
It's a secret that some truckers know: a back door that gets you from Manhattan to Beloit about 20 minutes sooner than Highway 24, a bit less stressed by traffic, and entertained by some of the prettiest land in a state full of vista after vista. Easy for Kansans to miss the turn and the beauty.
After all, you grew up in the midst of it.
But I'm a stranger in these parts, though I'm almost ready to declare state status. My previous address, with a few turns, was Savannah-yes-I've-read-the-book, Georgia. A city of live oaks and dead people. A city with not the business of Augusta, not the history (and refined charm) of Charleston, and not the jobs of Mega-Atlanta.
But it is flat in a way none of my neighbors could ever understand.
I will be forever amused by the unknowing who liken Kansas to a pancake. They know not of what they speak. The coast of Georgia, now that's flat. As flat as central Indiana in the winter before the corn grows high and changes the road into a tunnel of green. So flat you would swear you see the curve of the horizon.
Similarities do exist, however, the most stark striking me the first time I drove past Topeka into what is the real Kansas: the prairie. Out to the horizon of rolling hills. Out to the sky of deep, deep blue. Miles without a soul, nothing but the sound of the steady breeze. A land mostly empty.
No, the sandy Lowcountry is no prairie, not unless you look without knowing where you are. The salt marshes that stretch for hundreds of miles from the Outer Banks to Amelia Island are very much a golden, red, rust, green panorama covering both sides of two-lane blacktops connecting one forgotten town with another. The Lowcountry has already eliminated its culture, the culture that lived in towns like Frogmore and Moncks Corner, trading away a deep and rich heritage to firework stands and trinket hawkers.
But like the grasses of the Konza and Flint Hills, what lies beneath those rushes is life teeming, a biologic explosion responsible for all manner of seafood, most capable of satisfying a teen-ager with only a bateau, a cast net, and careless days of summer.
And like Kansas, the denizens of the coastal plain face a shortage equal to the blight that has turned much of our state to desert: water. Except, where we use water for crops and livestock, the Lowcountry squanders its birthright on golf courses with few year-round denizens. It's an odd bargain. Hilton Head Island, that golfers oasis, long ago made financial arrangements with smaller communities to pipe water miles out a barrier island to keep the Sea Pines golf course (and seemingly dozens of others) green.
So I rumble along the roads between Manhattan and Beloit, Beloit and Phillipsburg, Phillipsburg and Plainville, marveling at the openness, the big sky, and the unashamed beauty of a state most of the country flies over.
And that's okay. More for us.