Crossing lines, challenging notions

Crossing a state line can be more than just a physical fact. Though I was born and bred in western Missouri, the neighbouring state of Kansas has always been an alien land even though my paternal grandfather and other kin first saw light there.

Crossing a state line can be more than just a physical fact. Though I was born and bred in western Missouri, the neighbouring state of Kansas has always been an alien land even though my paternal grandfather and other kin first saw light there. It seemed to have a different physical geography and maybe because of that I thought that this provoked a very different way of looking at the world.

The flat table lands of Kansas which extend all the way north to Saskatchewan provide the mental image that most have of the state as it does for the more northerly province. Both stereotypes, of course, are very wrong. It doesn’t take much of a detour off Interstate 70, the road with bisects Kansas north and south to discover the fallacy this bald prairie notion.

Some of the world’s largest wetland ecosystems lay just south of the states’s almost dead centre town of Great Bend. The remnants of the tall-grass prairie in the rolling Flint Hills just west of Emporia boast, according to locals, an ecological complexity and diversity second only to the Amazonian rainforest. These two features alone refute the commonly held perception of a boring geography.

On my homeward wanderings two weeks ago I made only one foray on the ground into Kansas. My brother, John, lives and works in Emporia about 175 kilometres across the state line southwest of Kansas City. My brief visit to his home challenged my notion of the psychological character of the state.

Like the boring, bald prairie misconception the notion of Kansas it also has suffered under the image as a stolid, conservative bastion. This profile is possibly characterized best by the bland but decent image of the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower who grew up in Abilene, Kansas, an hour and a bit further to the north and west from Emporia. My brother, though, reminded me of the “Sage of Emporia,” the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning essayist and editor of the Emporia Gazette, William Allen White who offered another slant on the Kansan psyche.

White rooted in small town Kansas became an iconic spokesperson for an image of America that valued openness, honesty and the challenging of the status quo. While White died in 1944, quotes like “Peace without justice is tyranny” still have resonance. How about “Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others” or “My advice to the women of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.

“If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vim and vigour, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow” is not an affirmation of accepting things the way they are. Nor is his statement that “Youth should be radical. Youth should demand change in the world. Youth should not accept the old order if the world is to move on. … There must be clash and if youth hasn’t enough force or fervour to produce the clash the world grows stale and stagnant and sour in decay.”

Flying west over the state on my way back to the Yukon, I saw the great circles of central-pivot irrigated croplands in western Kansas. These reminded me of the growing concern over the depletion of the underlying Ogallala Aquifer and the broad environmental implications of that. Kansas and every other state has a bucket full of problems. White words remind us that protests against the order that is not only indicates healthy societal growth but a crucial step towards needed change.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste notes

Saturday, October 31: All Saints Eve or Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain marking the end of summer and was supplanted by the Christian celebration of mystery combining prayers and merriment in the 9th century.

Sunday, November 1: All Saints Day when all known and unknown saints are honoured by Christians. A suggested reading is Matthew 5: 1-12a.

Monday, November 2: All Souls Day is the day Christians remember and pray on behalf of the dead.

Monday, November 2: Guru Nanak Dev Sahib, the first Sikh teacher who lived from 1469 to 1539 c.e., is honoured on his birthday.

Thursday, November 4: Sandi Smith, a civil rights activist and nurse, is shot down along with two doctors and two graduate students in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979 at a protest supporting the unionization of mostly black industrial workers.

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