Oakley, Kansas

Ten days ago I was saying goodbye to friends of mine in Pittsburgh, and embarking on a 3 day voyage through the hills of West Virginia, the storms of Missouri, and the flat, uninhabited, windy, and seemingly endless plains of Kansas. My destination: Colorado Springs, CO, where I will be for the summer working as a database, contracting and forecasting intern for Compassion International, a global NGO that frees children from poverty across the world. However, although the scenery may have been dull, my journey was anything but uneventful.

We left Pittsburgh on Thursday morning. There were five of us, and each needed to be in Colorado by Saturday. We had planned only three things for the trip: sleep for free at a hotel in St. Louis, courtesy of my friend’s Marriott points, eat barbeque in Kansas City, and camp out under the stars in Kansas. I’m going to skip over what happened in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, since, as you may have expected, not much actually did happen in those states. Kansas is where my mind was intrigued by the virtue of a simpler way of life.

We left two of our friends in Kansas City earlier on Friday to watch the Tim McGraw concert, so by Friday afternoon there were only three of us. As we drove through the state time seemed to slow down. I mean that not in a boring way, but rather as if life moved more slowly, and cleared our sights to take note of simpler beauty: cattle grazing in green pastures along the highway, a series of white wind turbines that reached toward the low clouds, from time to time a still pond or lake, and homes -dozens of simple, small, separated and secluded homes. They seemed to get further and further apart as we drove into the heart of Kansas. My friend and I laughed as we would spot them in the distance: “where do they get their food!” Each house it seemed would be guarded by a line of tall trees; a protection from the cold wind. We wondered in amazement what life would be like out there.

Around 7pm we pulled into a town called Oakley in Western KS, asking for a good place to camp. We were sent to a place called Monument Rock about 24 miles off the highway and down some gravel roads. The sun began to set. We saw fewer and few cars as we got closer to the rock, and we began to feel lonelier. I asked my friend to put on some music, and we ventured on into dusk. As we glided over the gravel I noticed a lone mule deer on top of a nearby hill. He was the only life in sight, and he watched us as we drove on.

As the sun was almost set, we found Monument Rock, and the three of us laid out our tarp and our sleeping bags to share some dinner and watch the stars. And I remembered, that despite the complications and duties that I fill my life with, life still exists in the remote plains of Kansas. We had enough food to not go to bed hungry, and we were kept warm by our bags, and that night, that was all we needed to be at true peace about the world in which we live. 

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One thought on “Oakley, Kansas

  1. MEGHAN ELIZABETH DEWEY BARNETT says:

    Harry! I’m so glad to hear that your travel has been going well. I’m curious to hear about your internship (and the adventures I’m sure you’ll be having in Colorado), but I appreciate the fact that you took the time to record your travels, as well. I just finished Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, which is a book about a man’s solo journey across the United States. Being from the DC metropolitan area (and living there right now), it’s easy for me to forget that most of America is accustomed to a slower pace of life — that our country is dominated by rolling landscapes rather than dense urban settings.
    I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the pervasiveness of technology, and at times, how it invades our social lives. In DC, it’s not uncommon to sit in a park and see the majority of people around you on smart phones, or to find a family silently dining at a restaurant, each member hooked to his or her respective digital device. So, my question really is this — seeing how technology has drastically altered the way we engage with each other in public spaces on the East Coast, do you see any of that same behavior out in Kansas and beyond? Do people in different parts of the country respond to technological advances differently? I’m curious to hear if you’ve noticed anything unusual.
    Have a wonderful summer, and see you in the fall.

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