The Flint Hills speak to certain people.
These are not words I ever would have imagined writing, because the Flint Hills are hilarious. In case you don’t know, there is a swath of earth that stretches from central to northeast Kansas which is known as “The Flint Hills.” There are signs for it.
It is nothing, really, except unadulterated Kansas. In the spring it is green and soft. In the fall it is golden and crunchy. Tall yellow grass waves as you pass. You may see some cattle here and there, a windmill off in the distance, a rusty reminder that some day long ago some family settled up there. The houses are always long gone. But that’s it. You can’t call the Flint Hills “settled,” because there is nobody there, and hasn’t been for ages. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about Native Americans who once lived out there, where the buffalo roam. The terrain is uninhabited, unfarmed and unvisited. We are all just passing through on the way to someplace else.
The funny thing about the Flint Hills is not the Flint Hill themselves, but that they are seen as an attraction. You are greeted by a limestone sign as you enter them, “Welcome to the Flint Hills.” You have arrived. You have arrived nowhere. Which is supposed to be the point, I think.
Brady grew up in Louisiana and Buffalo and went to college in Ann Arbor. He now works for the newspaper in Kansas City, and drives through the Flint Hills to Oklahoma at least twice a year. He marvels at them. He thinks there are tourism dollars to be made there. Brady, I remind you, is not a business man. He is a newspaper man, which is the opposite.
But Brady is a romantic, and the Flint Hills seduce him. They have that effect. My wife and I were driving back to Kansas from our home in Houston this last weekend. It was still light out when we passed through the Flint Hills, but the sun was tucking itself in. There are days in Kansas when the air is crisp and dry, but the sun is warm in a cloudless sky. It feels like walking in from a snowball fight and finding your mom baking something. The flannel sunlight lays on top of the dry cold, and if you have a sweater on, it is perfect. A lot of places aren’t quite like that. A lot of places sit near bodies of water, and the cold feels different there. It’s a little wet and a little heavy. I’m thinking of Chicago or Minneapolis. Even Houston gets that way when it’s cold, which isn’t often. The wind comes right off the Gulf of Mexico. In Kansas, it has dried out before it gets there. In Kansas, paradise comes in small packages.
It was one of those days we were driving through. We agreed that one day we’d like to move back to Kansas, back to Lawrence, specifically. We had our first date there. We got married there.
Life is good in Houston. There is no state income tax, jobs a plenty, the winter is mild, real estate is affordable, and the Mexican food will sit you back in your chair. We like it here. We want to settle in. Our kids, should we eventually have some, might think of this as home.
But home whispers to you when you go near it, and we felt that. Yes, we thought, maybe some day we will come back. We’d like that.
That was Saturday afternoon. On Saturday night, I stood in downtown Lawrence, right outside the Red Lyon. The wind was up. The temperature was down. The door guy stood there smoking a cigarette, and I wondered if he was doing it to keep warm. I had on two shirts, but they didn’t stand a chance.
It stayed that way through the night and into Sunday morning, and when we were leaving, set out for an a.m. pass through the Flint Hills, we both agreed it was a good reminder that things are never quite as romantic as you remember them.