Inspiration in the Flint Hills


This week, work took me to central Kansas for a project. I spent six hours in a car by myself, driving through the wide fields, the Flint Hills and the expanse that is Kansas. People usually complain about driving across Kansas. And I suppose if I was heading all the way to Colorado, I would have too. 7+ hours of Kansas landscape isn’t particularly exciting. But the few hours I spent rolling across the state were perfectly acceptable.

I know that the majority of people don’t see middle America as much more than empty space. Trust me, there’s a lot of that. But, there’s also a grand beauty to it that should not be lost on writers (or others for that matter). And that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

As I drove down the highway, sometimes the only car I could see from horizon to horizon, I was struck by the colors around me. Fall in the Midwest can be beautiful, even early fall. The leaves haven’t begun to change yet, but there’s a tiredness that I noted in the green of the trees and the grasses. The fields have mostly been harvested and the husks of the plants that remain are tinged with brown as they wait to be plowed under for next year.

I was surprised to see the abundance of flowers along the side of the road. Great clumps of yellow blossoms, each climbing up a long stem and dangling like yellow bells marbled with a few bright purple thistle. Mixed in with the yellows and purples were several shades of green, from dark to mossy and this was offset, too, by the ruddy and bristly tips of milo.

flint hills
A photo of the Flint Hills, though not at a particularly hilly point. This is Kansas at its best.

As my drive took me further south, it was interesting to see how the vegetation and colors changed even though I hadn’t left Kansas and the similar vegetation. Things seem to happen faster, even at a slightly further north location of only a few hours. It felt more like fall the closer I got to home on my return trip.

The purpose of my trip wasn’t to observe the natural world around me. But, traveling to and from location allowed me the time to just let my mind go, similar to how I do when I write. I was able to contemplate my work and how I would approach things given the new eyes I had on the world around me.

When we build scenery or describe vast locations like a field, it’s important to remember that the real world has dozens of shades of the same color all swirling together in a great canvass of vegetation. A field may seem simple, but like any environment, there is nothing simple about it in actuality. There are short grasses and long grasses pillowing hillsides. There are also cracks in the earth that reveal the crusty brown or rusty dirt beneath. I was also struck in the early morning hours by the vastness of the world around me. Usually the starlit sky or being on the ocean and unable to sight land makes you feel small. I was awed by the vastness of the earth and being the only car/person from horizon to horizon as I hurtled down the highway. You’d be surprised what something that seems as simple as a field can inspire.

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