Being a Kansan feels like a privilege. In my regular life as an assistant professor of educational leadership, I often travel. However, as we all intimately understand, that life is on a temporary hold. My students lead international schools all over the world, and from Guatemala to Nigeria and from Poland to Singapore, they are living very much like we are right here in Kansas: under quarantine and uncertain about the future. My students and I speak daily about our shared experience and how to effectively navigate our professional and personal responsibilities in such unfamiliar conditions.
Often, in order to reflect on the burden we now share and to gain perspective and clarity, I take my sons for a walk. We leave our house on foot and head to the relatively endless network of serene trails that skirt the public lake on which we live.
We don’t have to go far. The clearly marked trailheads seem like portals to another reality, separate from the COVID-19 world in which we all currently live. We stand at one juncture with three trail options, all of which link at various points in the miles ahead. So, even if we choose the Blackhawk Trail now for its curves and predominant hills, we can always shift over to the Witches’ Broom Trail for a more challenging walk along the lakeshore. The boys, like most of us, love to hone their rock skipping skills and search for natural treasures of vibrantly colored and richly textured shale. At virtually any point, and with a little learned awareness about cardinal directions, leaving the trail to access the more remote parts of the lake is an easy, oft-rewarded adventure.
Though we, like Robert Frost’s poetic voice in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” have “promises to keep,” the “woods are lovely” and they remind us of how fortunate we are to have access to them. It is in “our woods” that we feel the immense joy of being alive. There, deep in the trees and along the remote, pristine shoreline, there are no worksheets, no due dates, no traditional schooling. But there is real learning happening. We have impromptu lessons on how to age trees, identify sedimentary rock formations, build makeshift dams, distinguish between animal tracks, how to navigate in dense underbrush, contrast edible and inedible mushrooms, and so on. And we talk and talk and talk. But most importantly, as should be at the crux of all authentic learning, we discover ourselves. What we are capable of, how to think critically about our world, how to respond to failure, and how to appreciate our circumstances. We rejuvenate our spirits and our minds so that when we return to quarantine, we are equipped for the task. And we feel the great privilege that we are here, now, in Kansas.
The Kansas countryside has much to offer our individual and collective well-being. What does it mean to be a “Kansan?” Perhaps now, more than most of us have known in our lives, being a Kansan includes feeling the great privilege of rediscovering ourselves right here at home. One of the most beautiful places on the planet. Stay safe. Be well. See you in the country.
Dr. Ty Frederickson is an assistant professor at Wilkes University. He grew up in rural Peabody, Kansas, and Sydney, Australia. He is a graduate of Emporia State University, Wichita State University, and Wilkes University. He is a U.S. Navy veteran.