Monday, October 28, 2013

Summer in Kansas: The Flyover State

It's one of the enduring insults the state of Kansas has had to endure in its long and somewhat weird history - always one of the flat, square states, like Nebraska or Oklahoma, that you have to fly over to get to Anywhere (which usually means one of the coasts, or the Mormon Tabernacle). Admittedly Kansas didn't mitigate the joke on itself until it finally eased restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in its sanctified airspace, but still, it's been a harsh legacy.

I think he said 'Benfer - are we close to Benfer yet?'

There hasn't been a hard frost here in southwestern Kansas - in fact, I encountered a rattlesnake yesterday, a nearly colorless, ill-tempered little fellow busily shaking the two buttons on its tail and fully capable of wreaking havoc in any mammal's orderly circulation. And another warm day has brought the flies back by the billionfold (a plague I've already mentioned elsewhere). So techically it's no longer summer in Kansas, but on occasion it's still summery.

[Household Hint: I have learned, presently lacking a proper flyswatter, that my rolled copies of out-of-date London Review of Books, when wielded properly with the requisite manly wrist, can be a deadly instrument if you're a fly, which, if you're reading this, I presume you are not.]

Today marks the official end of summer in the Flyover State, being the first day of the year I've seen the sandhill cranes flying over.

You always hear the cranes before you see them, that timeless, throaty, hollow-bone rattle like a paleolithic swamp sound. And there they sail in long unfurling ribbons, converging and expanding a thousand feet up, a thousand cranes at a time, flapping and gliding and flapping in one another's slipstream, as though only the vagaries of air govern their wide, strungout mass.

Cranes are born for the air. When they died the ancient Chinese made flutes of their wing bones as a kind of aerial testimonial and commemoration, what was once airborne made to bear air, a softer memorial to the live voice of the bird.

I'd guess I saw a couple thousand cranes fly over today. It's officially autumn in Kansas.

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