As Kansans, we tend to appreciate the elusive beauty of our world. This intimate understanding of our countryside is a healthy reminder that what we seek often differs from what we actually discover. My love for reading has often clarified this distinction between the journey and the destination. For example, when I was 19 and in the U.S. Navy, I read an essay about two young men who had graduated high school and set off for the West Coast with the intention to join the service. They never made it, but they understood that while their stated destination was unrealized, they had come to know themselves in their pursuit of it. The narrator admits that they “were not running away from something so much as they were running towards something: towards life, towards themselves, towards an end that cannot be known.”
Kansans intimately understand this feeling. Whether sitting in the back of a truck bed on a rise in the Flint Hills to watch the sunset or canoeing through the overhanging cottonwoods dotting the banks of a lazy stream, we journey not as much for the sunset or stream as we do to reflect on our human experience. How fortunate we are to be in a place that allows us so many opportunities to “run . . . towards life!” That “the end cannot be known” on our treks into the countryside makes our discoveries that much sweeter.
I was reminded of the value of the journey over the destination a few days ago when my two sons and I joined a friend in separate boats. He led us from our lake’s main body up the rippling current of a narrow, winding tributary to locate the white bass spawn. In mid- to late-April, as the water begins to warm, these fish migrate up the creeks where the females lay their eggs. If you are looking for an opportunity to ignite a child’s love for fishing, these places are prime locations to feel the thrill of catching an abundance of fish. And although our boats are small 16-foot flat-bottoms, most Kansas lakes are fed by streams just like the one we fish that are easily accessible by foot. In fact, we tie off a half-mile upstream and walk the sloping drop offs of the bank and through the quiet woods to pristine bends that hold the promise of a full stringer.
Like most who set out on a fishing trip, our goal was to catch fish. And, we did. However, we talk little about the number of white bass we either catch or keep. Rather, our reflections the next morning, and in the days that follow, focus on the joyous feeling of being securely free in our world, as individuals and together. We take pictures with our catch to remind our future selves of our good fortune. But it will not be the fish in these photos that stimulates our memories of our time together. What will, however, is the sheer joy the Kansas countryside offers us on our journeys of self-discovery.
Along the creeks, in the woods, and at peace with the world, we are learning profound lessons about who we are and what we may become. Isn’t this what we are all “running towards?” That, although what we find “cannot be known,” by venturing into Kansas’ elusive beauty, we come to know ourselves and build meaningful relationships with others? Having access to some of the world’s most vibrant sunsets and waterways is pretty sweet too. These are certainly among the greatest privileges of being a Kansan. Stay safe. Be well. See you in the country.