Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Three Billy Goats Gruff" performed by the Wichita Children's Theater, Waterville, KS--sponsored by the Marshall County Arts Cooperative

A few more from Kansas' 150th birthday extravaganza

 Sarah Kessinger in the hot seat

 Julie Popejoy and Bretta Bloomberg on the cello

 Brian Cook 

 Mandy Cook with Julie Popejoy and Pat Breeding

 Clay County Courthouse

 Marco Cassone, M-Pact

 Travis Panning and ensemble

 Fellow Nikon shooter and all around great guy Jeff Heidel

 M-Pact rocked the Moose Lodge in Marysville for three incredible, mindblowing concerts

 Pat Breeding, Marshall County Arts Cooperative

 Trist Curless, M-Pact, with a voice so low it can only be described as subsonic

 Morten Kier, M-Pact

 Fletcher Sheridan, M-Pact

 Jenn Thayer-Wood serenaded by Brian Cook, Travis Panning and Wayne Kruse

 Carla Wolfe and Wayne Kruse

 Jarrett Johnson, M-Pact

Kevin Brown

Kansas Day 150--from historical reenactors to a rocking, jivin' concert

 Celia Ison at the original Clay Center power station

 Kevin Brown

 How the day began...

Teresa Shadle and Mathias Shadle 

 A hanging jury...

Mike Miller

 Kathy Miller

Mandy Cook 

 Marco Cassone, M-Pact

Jeff Smith, M-Pact

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gymnasium, Dunlap Ks

Blight on the land

Something is missing in the new Kansas 150 stamp.

I’m trying to not be snarky about my adopted state, but in the gush of emotions surrounding the state’s sesquicentennial, somebody’s got to stay focused on the basics. And the basics are these: the stamp is boring. And it’s missing something.

The real question might be whether the missing element was intentional or simply artistic license. Anyone up for a conspiracy theory?

For now I’ll give the artist the benefit of the doubt. And, honestly, the stamp isn’t really that boring. The artist, Dean Mitchell, did a creditable job of melding the past with the future, at least where it comes to wind energy, with his depiction of a windmill superimposed over a vista of golden wheat fields and a gaggle of stately wind generators. All the usual elements are in place, including the sun-kissed azure sky, old technology and new, wide open prairie, the iconic amber waves of grain. 

In fact, if the state had asked my opinion about what to include in a sesquicentennial stamp I might have chosen the selfsame items. Sure, in the interests of truth in advertising I’d have added a plague of grasshoppers or clouds of eye gnats, something to represent the scourge of bugs that infest this place. I would have blurred the horizon to represent summer’s cloying humidity, and inserted a coal-black supercell to characterize the impending assassination of the arts in Kansas, if our newly elected governor has his way. Sort of a last hurrah. 

My opinion, however, was not solicited. It might have been mere oversight on the state’s part, not a deliberate snub but attributable to the inevitable contingencies spawned by understaffing. As you can see, my inherent generosity and willingness to retain an open mind without resorting to personal attacks, petty ridicule or harsh criticism, however richly deserving, instills within me a purity of vision possible only to one whose origins lie elsewhere. Future petitions for accurate portrayals of the great state of Kansas should be made not to native sons and daughters whose forbearers labored so diligently to tame the wild prairie and bring civilization to the Great American Desert, but to non-natives who retain a clear-eyed sense of appreciation for the inestimable qualities and, yes, the unfortunate foibles of their new homeland. Blinders are best suited for racehorses.

In so doing, a more accurate representation of the state would come forth. Take, for instance, the new official visitors guide, with its special section on “Kansas 150.” (Not “150th anniversary,” or “sesquicentennial,” a word few can spell and fewer can say, but a truncated, eviscerated bastardization.) The cover shows a trio of visitors standing knee-deep in prairie grasses, the distance receding into blue hills and the sky bluer still. A bucolic vision of a pristine place to be sure, but what the travel bureau purposely left out was a small detail called chiggers. Very small, almost microscopic, but astronomically abundant, and, even as the photographer’s shutter snapped, hungrily sucking the blood of the visitors. 

In a small box in the lower right corner is the state’s motto writ large: “Kansas—as big as you think.” If speaking of insects, unimaginably big. Why not change it to “Kansas—bring your Deet!”

But I digress. 

Contemplating the stamp from an outsider’s perspective is a troublesome exercise in objectivity. I’m honest enough to think advertising should have a foundation of truth with only a kiss of embellishment, and realistic enough to know that too much of one and not enough of the other can be disastrous. And I understand that the artist was dealing with space constraints, a palette the size of a postage stamp. There’s only so much he could include, however vital. But couldn’t he have added contrails webbing the unclouded heavens, in a nod toward our state’s reputation as “flyover country”? Or, perhaps in one corner, a small pancake to represent the unfounded but pestilential belief that Kansas is “flat as a pancake”? But no, that could be mistaken for a cow pie.

It’s a slippery slope indeed trying to configure an inclusive but minimalist snapshot of what Kansas is all about. Keeping it rural is unquestionably the most critical component, but including the state’s motto, ad astra per aspera, would at least provide a warning that nothing comes easily here. If you want it, you’re going to have to work damn hard for it, and even then there’s no guarantee of success. And maybe that’s the true meaning of Kansas—the unending difficulties we endure when we follow our vision, and the supreme reward for our perseverance. 

I can’t imagine trying to squeeze that onto a stamp. And yet I balk at windmills and wind generators as the iconic merger of the past and the future. They’re too pat, too clever, too easy a representation. For as I drive around the state I see windmills here and there, and most are broken and some are not, and occasionally I come upon a cluster of wind generators, but they’re a rarity. Cellular towers, however, are anything but rare.

Not long ago, I was commissioned to photograph a sweeping, oh-give-me-a-home, Willa Cather panorama without any sign of man’s influence. “You’re not allergic to Photoshop, are you?” I asked. 

For it was patently impossible. On any horizon, in any direction, one sees a dozen towers, and more appear daily, spreading like a toxic virus. Intrusive, ugly, lethal to migrating birds, they’re a blight upon our land, and we seem powerless to hinder their progress. 

Their absence in the Kansas 150 stamp was telling. Perhaps even diabolical. A true rendering of the state’s technological future should have included thousands of cellular towers, an amassed army of needle-tipped monoliths glowing with their own incandent fire, the very stars to which we aspire eclipsed and subsumed behind their smoldering radiance. We’ve sacrificed the finite prairie on the altar of communication and now must pay the price. But happy birthday anyway, Kansas! For a short while longer we’ll blissfully hide behind windmills and oceans of golden wheat, or sunflowers or unclouded skies, content in the illusion that our innocence remains undefiled, that our vistas are unsullied, that there is time to reverse course and demand a worthier future. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A whole new look

Recently while we were in the “big city,” a description I use for any metropolitan area with a population larger than 4,000, we had a few minutes to kill and so at my wife’s insistence we stopped at one of the big box department stores that didn’t have W or mart in its name. What followed was an experience both familiar and distressing, for no sooner had we entered the place than we were overwhelmed with options. The store was as big as our town and with about the same number of people, only these were surly and wired with Christmas pressures, utterly devoid of joy, madly dashing to and fro with looks that dared interference.

“Let’s stick together,” I whispered.

“I need to go over there,” my wife said, pointing to the unmentionables department.

“I’ll wander around,” I muttered. 

It was the last we would see each other for a while. I checked out the kitchen section and housewares—I have a thing for luxuriously thick bath towels—but boredom quickly set in. Several circumnavigations around the store led me to believe my wife had disappeared off the face of the earth, so I fought my way through the crush of humanity to the men’s clothing, hoping she might look for me there.

Maybe I’m out of touch with how people dress in cities, but the styles were horrible and the putrescent colors something you’d see oozing out of fresh roadkill. I searched high and low for a beefy sweatshirt or two, my favorite winter attire, but everything I found was thin and wimpy. And then I saw the sweater.

Deep maroon with a cable-knit pattern and a quarter-zip neck, it was thick and heavy and, best of all, clearanced at a ridiculous price. I’m not normally a sweater person but I was determined to take away something to show for my time, so I carried it around until I finally spotted my wife. The relief on her face was palpable.

A few weeks passed before I tried it on. I didn’t care for it at first; the pattern made me think I was imitating a Norwegian fisherman. My wife, however, gushed over it. “You look nice,” she purred.

I had to admit the color and weave accentuated my ruddy cheeks and beard, which when I wasn’t looking turned white. How and when that happened was anybody’s guess. But I looked almost distinguished.

Actually, I looked like Santa Claus. Furthering this uncomfortable illusion was my girth, which the sweater seemed to exaggerate. My fondness for chocolate and all-you-can-eat buffet was telling, though I prefer to blame it on middle age, that venerable timespan when everything you eat goes to your middle. 

Middle age is something of an euphemism, however. I’m middle age only if I take into account that few human beings other than Methuselah ever reached twice that of my current age.

The white beard, though, made me feel ancient. Dyes were out of the question after a friend in Denver once surprised us by magically transforming into an image of his former self, his graying hair suddenly a rich auburn. (His wrinkles remained deeply engraved in his face, however, adding insult to injury.) 

He looked ridiculous. Couldn’t he have done it incrementally, slowly as to deceive our eyes? No, it was all or nothing, he said, not without a little heat. He said a few other things, none of which could be printed in a newspaper. 

Staring into the mirror, I was forced to admit I had entered my autumn years, a flowery term used to mask the debilitating effects of time with its concomitant subtractions, lessenings and outright failures. Welcome to decrepitude, I thought.

Smart attire has never been my strong suit. I prefer jeans and old sweatshirts riddled with holes because then I don’t feel bad when spilling coffee or salsa all over the front, a problem that seems increasingly impossible to prevent. In our formative years my wife threatened to leave me over my fondness for combat boots. I loved them and found them comfortable and tough, if not inexpensive. One would think frugality a trait of some importance, but it was lost on her. And on my mother, who treacherously sided with her. I got rid of the boots.

Having my wife coo over my new look had unintended consequences. When the same retailer advertised a gigantic after-Christmas online sale, I immediately ordered three more sweaters. These were even beefier, with argyle patterns and muted earth colors. I didn’t even bother to look for sweatshirts, a fact that in retrospect appalled me.

The sweaters arrived a few days ago. My wife thinks I’m going to look killer. I wonder what I’m turning into. That an article of clothing could trigger an existential crisis is mindboggling, but perhaps no more so than looking in the mirror and seeing a face aged beyond reckoning. 

This journey we call life is full of surprises. As I evolve into whatever I shall become, at least I’ll be dressed a little sharper than before. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011