Sunday, June 15, 2008

Expanding horizons

Last night as I drove back to Wichita from visiting a colleague in Manhattan, KS, I drove through the Flint Hills and took some photos of the school at the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve school at sunset. As I did, it occurred to me that it is pretty hard NOT to take a cool photo of the Flint Hills at sunset. The setting lends itself to great shots. On the rest of the drive back, I mulled over the idea of a new type of photo contest for Kansas. Its defining feature would be what was not allowed in terms of subject. The point is not that said subjects are not valuable or important. Rather, it would be to get us to think about Kansas in a way that got beyond the familiar, even cliche images that show up on photo contests and state fair exhibitions. In some ways, it is too easy to fall back on these topics. What else in Kansas is worthy of documenting? are some ideas of things that would NOT be permitted in this alternative Kansas photo competition:

The Flint Hills and Konza Prairie.
Monument Rocks and Castle Rock
Abandoned farmhouses, one room schools, country churches, court houses
Cows, bison, and horses
Trains and railroad stations
Windmills, barns, and grain elevators
Sunsets, approaching storms, and tornadoes
Panoramas of fields, either bare or with crops
Sunflowers, post rock fences and barbed wire
Children and senior citizens (however they may be in the background of scenes provided people of other generations are also present)
Patriotic imagery
Traditional artistic images (Madonna of the Plains, Cathedral of the Plains, Keeper of the Plains, the John Brown Scene in the Capitol, etc. As a general rule of thumb, if it has the phrase "of the plains" in the name, it is probably off limits.)

You are probably saying by now "hey, what CAN I photograph?"

Now, you've got the idea!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Homeward bound...and determined

Well, fellow travelers, last week was the final dash of the trip. Sunday, got up early again (having a room facing east where the rising sun hits you in the face helps that process). Headed into PA to see the Ephrata Cloister, sorta a German-based version of the Shakers, and then on to Intercourse to see the Amish Country. It was, well, an experience. Am sure the locals really don't care much for "English" like me coming in and traipsing around. The stores tend to be Mennnonite-run tho' imagine my surprise when it turned out that "Nancy's Quilt Shop" had Chinese immigrants behind the counter.

Monday was Decoration Day (today we call this Memorial Day) and got to spend it, in all places, Gettysburg. The battlefield was something. A lot happened there so it got kinda confusing. The best image was that of Confederate reenactors outside a store selling Civil War souvenirs with an African American woman talking to her friend on the street. Talk about exploding with irony. While touring, went past Eisenhower's farm--he bought land next to the battlefield and considered that, in many ways, his homestead. So much for those Kansan ties. Not like Truman and Independence. Drove across PA to Sandusky OH for the night. Saw the sunset over Lake Erie.

Tuesday was Heritage Quest. Drove across Michigan, where my family is from. Entered into Monroe County, which is French Canadian in ancestry and one side of my family has been there since the 1700s. Even the street names are family names: Nadeau, Cousino, Navarre. Saw the little (and I do mean little) town of La Salle where my grandmother grew up. Then to Haslett, which is outside of Lansing, where my grandfather grew up, my mother lived as a small child, and ironically, where my dad lived as a teenager. Went to the old Marsh family homestead and knocked on the door, not sure who would answer. Turned out the family who lived there knew my family very well. Got to see the home and the landmarks that I had heard about for so long: the enclosed porch, the garden in back with the lilacs, the hill down to the swamp and the rr tracks with Lake Lansing and Hickory Island beyond. All my life I had heard of these places and they sounded so far apart. They're not. The whole area is smaller than College Hill. Michigan as a whole is flat with lots of lakes, swamps, marshes, etc. I seem to be a descendant of the swamp people.

Then to Holland, Michigan to visit my aunt and uncle and cousins. We toured around and went up to Muskegon, where the Prices are from. Saw the Price home, the synagogue where some of the family attended, and other landmarks. Let's just say a lot of the area is now a "transitional" neighborhood and it was good to have visited it in the daytime. Back in Holland, the Dutch heritage is still highly prized, with the folksyness we see, for example, in Lindsborg KS with the Swedes. One wonders how Holland's Chamber of Commerce would treat a discussion of modern Holland which, in addition to windmills and tulips, is just as known for its red light districts, hash bars, gay marriage, and mosques.

The following day, I took the ferry across Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee. After a slight mix up on schedules (note for the future: double check the sailing times as the company as I made a reservation for what I thought was Thursday and they thought was Wednesday). Minor glitch but got on board and headed across. About a 2.5 hour ride across. They even show movies on the boat.

The next day after that, it was Frank Lloyd Wright-apalooza. Saw his Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa, the Unitarian Church in Madison (as well as the now completed Monona Terrace), then to Taliesin and southern Wisconsin. I saw lots of the prairie style but not much prairie. Lots of forested hills with broad river valleys but little that looked like what I would think of as the tree/grasslands combo that we call prairie here in KS. Ended up at Effigy Mounds National Monument on the IA/WI border.

Yesterday was the last day of the trip. A mad dash across Iowa from outside Dubuque to Cedar Rapids (to view, among other things, the "Mother Mosque of America") through Des Moines and to Madison County. Yes, I saw the bridges. There are about six of them and I visited 3. They are quaint from a distance but the social history side of things comes from reading the graffiti that literally covers the interiors of the bridges from end to end. After that, headed on down to Kansas City where I had supper on the plaza. Then, it was into Kansas and down through the Flint Hills into a gorgeous KS sunset. Kansas was welcoming me back home again. Got in about 10:30 last night. Researchapalooza is over. I survived. I think.

Am still processing things. What a time! Am not so much thinking of the trip as ending as much as a new phase of research and study will begin. Will keep you posted!