Kansans fortunately have access to an abundance of space. With a population of fewer than 3 million inhabiting over 80,000 square miles of land, we do not have to venture far to find our own little paradise. Perhaps the last few weeks, as we have been attempting to navigate the discomfort of the quarantine and social distancing, we have taken advantage of the sprawling landscapes, the seemingly endless trails, world-class campgrounds, and the lakes, rivers, and streams of the 34th most populous state in the union. These highly accessible getaways are an excellent way to break up the monotony of wondering when our lives will return to normal. They are also prime opportunities to spend time with others; after all, it is the shared adventure of new discovery on which friendships are often built.
Water has the capacity to shape the land as well as rejuvenate our spirits. While Kansas may not be well known for the diversity of our water activities, there are thousands of lakes across our state, including twenty-four public reservoirs and hundreds more that are owned by the state and local governments. Our five major rivers, the Kansas, the Arkansas, the Missouri, the Republican, and the Smoky Hill, and dozens of smaller rivers and streams, have access points a short drive away, regardless of where you live. Many of our lakes have easily accessible swimming areas and most, including a few river outfitters, have kayaks and canoes for rent at the local marina and are eager to give lessons to ensure you and your family and friends are properly equipped for a beautiful and safe day on the water. A close friend, one who has experienced the wide-world and has also returned to his home state with his family, recently shared the story of day-kayaking on the Smoky Hill in early June. On the river, alone, yet together. In reflection, he realized his privilege of being in this place. Free to roam and be “deeply moved.”
My family makes it a point to venture outside as much as possible. Our sons invite their friends to share in the joys the water has to offer, and we introduce some of their favorite activities, such as tubing, kayaking, and fishing. And as I either pull them across the glass-like surface of the lake or teach them how to troll and teamwork net a fish, they are as much in the present as the rest of their lives ever allow. Regardless of how we spend our time with family and friends on the water, I never tire of watching their appreciation for the moment shine. I can sense the memories of childhood and adolescence solidifying in their laughter. It is infinitely valuable to build bonds of friendship, instill curiosity, reinforce courage, and feel the intensity of being alive. Kansas uniquely affords us these moments. Langston Hughes, who spent the first thirteen years of his life in Lawrence, wrote that his “soul has been deeply moved by the rivers” that trace the swirling history of human civilization. While he reportedly wrote this when crossing the Mississippi, I like to believe that his Kansas roots influenced an appreciation for the relationship between where we live and who we may become.
If you either haven’t recently spent time on a Kansas waterway, this summer is the perfect opportunity. There is plenty of space for everyone, and the chances of happening upon your own oasis, right here in Kansas, are high. Encourage your family and friends to join you on your adventure. Like Hughes, a fellow Kansan, reminds us, we all need our “souls [to be]deeply moved” once in a while. What better way to be reminded of how fortunate we are. Get out on the water, my friends. Wear your life jacket. Stay safe. Be well. See you in the country.