It is often hard to know where the line is of the wonder at a place and the mere acceptance of it is and thus it is time to move on. I have reached it here at nearly three weeks.
I have heard the stories now, having spoken with both the young and old of this place here in the far eastern corner of what my friends on the Coast would call “one of the square states.” They do not use that appellation because they find them strange but rather because they can’t tell these places with the precisely drawn borders one from another, assume they are all the same since they are “out here” and see no reason to know much more.
Some of the people have lived only here, something nearly unheard of in this day. Their lives seem limited to us, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying. They assure me it can be both, and I nod and smile with some condescension yet I am reminded until quite recently in our history, the majority of us had lives this way and that our lives can also be both enlightened and constrained by so many other things besides the distances one travels. It is--life is--what one puts into it, whether that is at the PTA, the farmer’s market, or the time one spends on the road finding other places and other things. While the things one finds to be fascinated by or to enjoy may be different, there is no evidence for me that either is the more fulfilling experience.
So, having come to this place in the normal course of discovery, I have found myself constrained to stay here by forces I cannot control and thus have tried to find enjoyment in what these people, these geographically disadvantaged people, have. For a time, as always, that is easy. Their stories and their uniqueness are a discovery. I am an oddity, a different sort to them which lends to the mutual pleasure of the experience. Yet there is a point when one is no longer the interesting fellow in a camper from California, but rather someone who is just here, tolerated, no longer unique. I become someone who understands a little of the local custom and history, but has heard enough of it now to be satisfied, but does not live it.
What now, besides the weather and the bad karma of the local Walmart do we discuss? Well, we don’t. If one probes too much it is for them too personal and disruptive. They have a life here and they understand, accept, and in many ways and cases they thrive here, but it is not something they want to talk about much with the man with the broken van.
The weather is easy enough to talk about. It rains. It rains every day. It has for ten days. The obligatory inch a day that comes with living in or near the edge of tornado country. We can discuss hail—it’s size and frequency—and how much longer before the next extreme weather warning is issued. There is superficiality in that. Perhaps it is the cold and wind, the dark skies and the sameness of the landscape of the last several weeks that has made it seem so fruitless to pursue a deeper conversation. None are offered or attempted so now as my traveling companion has reached the end of her isolation in the cold damp recesses of the monoxide filled bay at the garage, I no longer care. There will be more rain, but a hope as we leave this place that the next place will be, not better, but different. These people, these happy, yet geographically isolated people, will not miss us and perhaps be glad we are gone.
I will be glad to resume a journey so long interrupted that it will be hard to remember where I was going and will need to alter the itinerary to allow for the time consumed here. I miss the woods, the search for the fauna, even the silence, the dark and quiet of the night . I did not come out here, now more than 2000 miles from home, to live in a room with plastic glasses, cleaned by a maid, in a building peopled each night by a different group of young eager looking men and women with the same black suitcases on wheels and laptop cases slung over their shoulder. These are the busy ones, those who, unlike me, who have no time to stand and watch but must be on to the next thing, the next client, and the next place.
Independence Kansas is city of 9848 people when they were last counted. Among those who are natives of this place are Bill Kurtis, the TV journalist, who still owns an interest in the radio station here, Alf Landon, the 7th Governor of Kansas and a Presidential a candidate in 1936, William Inge, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who wrote “Picnic,” Harry F. Sinclair, the founder of the Sinclair Oil Company also was born here. At one time, it is believed that more millionaires per capita lived in Independence than any other place in the United States. It is also remembered as the home of the first minor league team that the late Mickey Mantle signed to play with, the class D affiliate in Independence, which also played the first organized baseball game under lights.So it is not an insignificant place, just one I know enough of now and time to leave.
Tomorrow I will leave. I am informed by the childish face on the electric television set from nearby Tulsa, that it will be much as today here, still wet, still cool and still threatening to uproot trees, automobiles and people’s lives. La Coachasita and I will try to outrun it, move to a place to the east and south where it will not track us down with such fury. I will sort through the detritus of the past few weeks and try to find my way back to the more bucolic places in my world and in my mind where I am used to being this time of year.
It has been a nice place to visit, but it is more than time to take my leave.