Beguiled

In traveling, as in reading, the surprises scattered among the expected are what make an experience exceptional. Although I have seen thousands of lovely views, the unlooked for, the unforeseen, the unanticipated are the most memorable. Going around a bend and seeing a fabulous valley spread out far beneath me. Finding fanciful rock formations hidden behind a bleak landscape. Passing a fairytale house in a prosaic neighborhood. All wonderfully unexpected.

In Kansas, which has the reputation of being a rather boring state, I have been beguiled by the scattered sculptures that enhance the natural beauty of the Wellington and Wichita area. A herd of unheard horses thundering across a lawn. Children reading. Water fowl taking flight. A blue heron all but hidden in the reeds. These photos are below.

Other sculptures I only caught glimpses of as we passed — children jumping into a swimming hole, a mother and child walking in the garden, a prairie woman gathering flowers, a little boy catching minnows by a pond, a man soaking his feet in a fountain.

Apparently, there are dozens of such sculptures scattered about the Wichita area, though I only saw these few. Still, whenever anyone speaks of Kansas in a derogatory tone, I will smile to myself and remember these wonderful sculptures that add a fillip of playfulness to beautiful but otherwise unsurprising scenes.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Experiencing Kansas

Studies have shown that weather seldom impacts happiness (except I am sure, when the weather thwarts one’s plans). With that in mind, I have tried to ignore the mind-numbing and body-crushing over-heated humidity I have experienced in Kansas and to enjoy whatever adventure came my way.

I sampled most of the Mexican restaurants in the area with food ranging from acceptable to excellent. Enjoyed gold both in the evening sky and the misty fields. Wandered through botanical gardens where colorful fish swim beneath a dragon wall. Visited the Keeper of the Plains, a forty-four-foot, five-ton sculpture of a tribal chief. Viewed historic homes. Spent a morning browsing in the Wellington library, a Carnegie library that is a twin to one in Delta, Colorado. (At the library, I learned that standing like superwoman, legs wide, hands on hips is empowering. Discovered that highway 89, from Flagstaff almost to the Canadian border, passes by or through at least five national parks — a trip of a lifetime that one day I will undertake.)

I even attended a father’s day cookout.

A particular joy of this cross-country trip of mine has been slipping into the lives of the people I’ve visited, borrowing, for a time, their habitat and habits. My siblings are scattered across the country, seldom in contact with one another. And yet, here in this small Kansas town, my current hostess is surrounded by generations of her sprawling family, from her elderly parents to their youngest great-great-grandchild, most of whom came to the cookout. It was nice, for a day, to be part of such a gathering.

And it was nice experiencing Kansas in such a personal way.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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The Length of the Chain Between the Imagination and the Stake of Reality

Last night I rewatched The Long Way Home, a 1998 Hallmark movie starring Jack Lemmon. While this is not his best movie (oh, wait — maybe it is. I never particularly liked most of his movies), it certainly spoke to me considering my present situation.

In a way, our circumstances are the opposite — I have too few loved ones left and he has too many. In my case, the house where I am living (my father’s house) will soon be sold out from beneath me, and I will be left to fend for myself. In his case, his children made the decision to sell his home after the death of his wife and have him move in with them. He is lost, doing not much of anything but sitting around, having accepted their belief that he needs to be protected from the death sentence supposedly conferred by old age. (He is only 75, which might be old, but not in my world where my mother lived strongly to 85, my father did it “his way” until he was 97, and my forever young dance teacher is 78 going on 48.)

But both Jack and I are poised on the precipice of a new life, struggling to find meaning, purpose, focus in the light of our losses.

I’ve been trying to envision various ways of continuing my life, perhaps traveling, and that is what Jack does — goes on a road trip. After a minor accident where he couldn’t make it home, he meets a college student on her way to Monterey where she will have to deal with her own family situation. Impulsively, instead of going back to his son and daughter-in-law, he decides to go with her, taking the long way home to his children in Kansas. (Kansas — a possible homage to the Wizard of Oz, the ultimate road trip / long-way-home movie?)

The main theme of this movie for me is freedom. The college student tells Jack, “Freedom is the length of the chain between the imagination and the stake of reality.” (She says it in such a way that it sounds like a quote rather than a spontaneous outburst, but I haven’t been able to find the citation anywhere.)

I never quite understood this quote, despite having seen the movie two or three times, but now I’m getting an inkling of what it means. Reality imposes such harsh rigidity on us, tying us to the necessities of taking care of others and ourselves, and keeping us bound to the inevitablity of death. And yet, and yet . . .

Our imaginations take us elsewhere, enabling us to envision other possibilities, which lengthens the chain that binds us, and sets us free to live not in the darkness left behind by our loved ones who are gone, but “in the light” of them.

The poster that hangs above the door of “my” dance studio.

 

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.