Recently we drove west and north into the Smoky Hills. This magnificent terrain bumps and rises along the lifting grassland, the hills often sudden along the highway. It is the terrain of an unmade bed, a lush quilt rumpled and uneven, sharp in places and tossed about as though someone were in a hurry to get up and on with the day, or the season. The river by its name, the Smoky Hill, cuts politely among the knobs and grassy welts and stone-speckled nodes edging the bottomland. It’s a rich and corrugated scene, especially as the sun sinks and the land is cast among long shadows slicing among the hills. Dusk presents them with the cover of felt.
We understand only a little of what brought the first settlers here and why they were determined to stay. It is the land, of course, and in it lies that mysterious and pulsating call of home that has touched a million different corners of our terrain, once and long ago defined by the direction of rivers, home that was the sand hills along the Arkansas, the bluffs of the Solomon, the sandstone peaks above the Saline, the rolling ridges along the Smoky Valley.
Yesterday’s settlers and today’s newcomers have found themselves surprised that they have taken root quickly. After a few years they feel the staunch old pull of home. This is born of many things, but the old-timers say it comes mostly of a shared joy of living.
We saw this among the vivacious crowds at Hyllningsfest, the thousands determined to participate in their delight uninterrupted. No fierce rain would keep them from mutual pleasure, their coming home – from Uganda, Topeka, Belleville, North Dakota, California, Arizona and wherever. They have the call of all the places that remain part of the land around them, places that carry the vanishing echoes of youth, the glow of memories unlocked.
They have found places that incubate and brace the human process, where intelligence, kindness, imagination and sensibility, and courage and fun, are all worth the courting. They have found a community of the heart, the closest community of all.