Tag Archives: Midwest

I’ve Gotta Crow!

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

My third-place ribbon in photography in the 2015 Visions of the Flint Hills art show at the Buttonwood Art Space in Kansas City, Missouri.

I started entering art shows this year.  Got in some, shut out of others. My latest entries were for the Visions of the Flint Hills show at the Buttonwood Art Space, 3013 Main St.,  Kansas City, Missouri, which runs through November 27, 2015. This time, two of my photographs were accepted, and one earned a third-place ribbon in photography. Hurrah! The opening event was part of Kansas City’s First Fridays art walk.

But the real story isn’t about me, but the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, which is the true star of the art and photography show.

For seven years Buttonwood Art Space has supported the Flint Hills area of Kansas and its unique place in our greater regional ecosystem through this annual art benefit. Visions of the Flint Hills Art Benefit and Sale is a juried exhibit featuring art of the Flint Hills. Sweeping paintings of sky and native prairie grass dominate the show, but sculpture pieces, fiber works and photos are also featured. The art is on exhibit October and November, in Buttonwood Art Space.
Proceeds from the event will benefit a non-profit organization, Friends of the Konza Prairie, a 501(c)3 organization which is involved in supporting the Konza Prairie, an 8,600 acre research and educational preserve south of Manhattan, Kansas. The Flint Hills are the continent’s largest remaining tract of Tallgrass native prairie which is also one of America’s unique places.  This unique geographic area once swept over 170 million acres of North America and was home to huge herds of buffalo and elk.  It is now a vanishing area. It harbors a wealth of adventure, beauty, and history. The region’s sweeping horizons and carpets of wildflowers captivate artists and enchant visitors.

I took these photographs at a photography workshop at the Cowboy Way Ranch near Westmoreland, Kansas, organized by Craig McCord and Jason Soden. My photographer friend Lynn told me about it and drove us there, so without these photographers, I wouldn’t have experienced this prairie burn. I am in their debt.

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

My photo, of a Kansas Rancher Starting a Controlled Burn, is on the left. The photo on the right shows a controlled prairie burn at night. Art patrons can choose a best of show. Voting continues!

“At sunset, three riders hurry to an area to be burned in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Smoke already fills the skies and plumes rise in the valley beyond. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie, which preserves the grassland.” I was sitting on a flatbed trailer, bumping up a hill as the truck made its way to the next burn area, when I saw these three riders.  It was smoky, it was getting dark dark, it was hard to focus and steady my hand, but I did get this one shot.  The rider in back holds onto her hat as they race across the prairie.  The hat had flown off her head on another day, so she was taking no chances.

Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here:  Three Riders in the Kansas Flint Hills

“A rancher on horseback starts a controlled burn by dragging a fiery tire across the prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Ranchers replicate natural fires when they burn the prairie every few years, which preserves the prairie as a grassland.”  This happened so fast that I almost missed it. Several others at the workshop captured it, too.
Photo on Visions of the Flint Hills website here: Kansas Rancher Stating a Controlled Burn

Buttonwood Art Space.

Crossroads Art District First Fridays


Filed under Art, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Photography

2010 Commencement at the University of Kansas

Potter Lake on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

As any Kansas Jayhawk knows, visiting the University of Kansas campus, particularly at Commencement time, is a sacred experience.  One of my nephews graduated from KU on May 16, 2010, so of course I made the holy pilgrimage!  The weather was overcast, threatening rain, but we enjoyed the day with little more than a sprinkle.

My sorority, Chi Omega, is in the background of this landmark -- the Chi Omega fountain. It's a popular photo spot, as you can see here. Our group portraits often were taken in front of it. During my college days, the Chi O house didn't have air conditioning, so there were many nights when I tossed and turned in the early Autumn humid heat listening to the fountain through my open window.

The KU campus in the city of Lawrence is one of the loveliest in the country.  If you don’t believe me, just ask another Jayhawk! KU is perched on Mount Oread, adorned with a jewel of a lake and landscaped with native and ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers.  I took an urban botany class while a KU student and got to know many of the trees personally. We still keep in touch.

Bernadette Gray-Little, the new chancellor, addressed the graduates, reminding us what a treasure our university is as she told us about her first year on The Hill. We have one of the most recognizable mascots — the Jayhawk. Come on, admit it, you’ve seen a Jayhawk, even though it’s a mythical bird.

Education graduates line up with their blue balloons, preparing for their walk down the hill into Memorial Stadium.

Our chant is notable, too.  Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU. Teddy Roosevelt called it his favorite college cheer. Maybe he was shouting it when he charged up San Juan Hill!

The march down the hill is very festive, almost like a carnival, with some graduates turning cartwheels, walking arm in arm or holding the hand of their child.   Many wore accessories like feather boas or leis or messages on their mortar boards.  Many carried balloons.  One graduate carried a fake ficus tree in a pot. What was that all about?

One young woman tossed off her cap and gown and was wearing a “Where is Waldo?” outfit. I kept looking for her in the stands. Even in that costume, she was hard to spot among the thousands of graduates.  The whole procession takes a little over an hour. 

I walked down the hill as a graduate years ago. We all made it into the stadium and were seated when it started to rain.  The chancellor declared us all graduated, and we all left.  But the best part of the ceremony is the walk down the hill anyway.

More serious graduation ceremonies were held earlier for the various schools and departments.

Graduates pass through a line of faculty to get to their seats. Here, a graduate introduces her baby -- a future Jayhawk?

We are happy to celebrate the success of this great university, forged during the Civil War.

The city of Lawrence was founded in 1850s by abolitionists from Massachusetts who knew they wanted to start a university.   Here’s what the Commencement program had to report:

“Lawrence’s early days were violent, the most deadly being the 1863 raid led by pro-slavery guerrilla William Quantrill and his band of ruffians from neighboring state Missouri.  During the bloody ransacking, the town was virtually destroyed, and nearly 200 men were murdered.  The pre-dawn attack continues to spawn conversation today.”

The Jayhawk mascot visits with graduates.

This conversation is called the border war and breaks out especially during football and basketball season.  KU has some mighty fine teams.  James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was KU’s first basketball coach. KU has won twelve National Championships: five in men’s basketball (two Helms Foundation championships and three NCAA championships), three in men’s indoor track and field, three in men’s outdoor track and field, and one in men’s cross country.  On April 7, 2008, the Jayhawks defeated Memphis 75-68 in overtime to win the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  The KU football team has played in the Orange Bowl three times: 1948, 1968, and 2008.

In 1951, the Memorial Carillon and Campanile was dedicated in honor of the 276 KU men and women who had given their lives in World War II. Music from the 53 bells is an integral part of campus life.

The Commencement program stated: “Joyfully, just three years after the horror of the Quantrill raid, KU opened for business.”  Tuition was $30 per year.

Quantrill’s raid is vividly depicted in Ang Lee’s “Ride With The Devil.”

Various KU websites list notable alumni and faculty.  I’ve been lucky to meet or interview a few of them for articles.  One is internationally known paleontologist Larry D. Martin, who with David Burnham, discovered in 2009  a venomous, birdlike raptor that thrived about 128 million years ago in China.  In 1975, I met Dr. Martin at a dig of Pleistocene mammals, The Natural Trap, Wyoming.  In 2004, I visited Dr. Martin at a dig of Jurassic dinosaurs near Newcastle, Wyoming, and will post about that in the future.  Another person I was privileged to interview was Cora Downs, a professor of microbiology, who developed the flourescent dye that is used to identify and trace bacteria and viruses. I also interviewed Takerua Higuchi, a KU professor, known as the “father of physical pharmacy.”

Graduates celebrating!

Among notable alumni are Elmer McCollum, who discovered Vitamins A, B and D;  Walter Sutton, who discovered that chromosomes come in pairs and carry genes; Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the recently demoted Pluto, now a dwarf planet; doomsayer Paul Ehrlich (“The Population Bomb”) and  Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, formerly Kansas governor,  whom non-Kansans may know as the official who recently taught a reporter how to sneeze into his elbow at a press conference on the flu.

Graduates appear on the big screen as they stroll into the stadium with their own festive accessories.

Click on famous University of Kansas faculty and alumni for a more complete list.  (I’m not on the list, ha, ha.)

Official University of Kansas website.

My post on the KU Museum of Natural History.

This Week in KU History.

Wikipedia Entry on the University of Kansas.

Link to photo gallery of KU Commencement.

In an annual tradition, medical school graduates open bottles of champagne.

The School of Education graduates release their balloons.

Check out the KU commencement photos on facebook.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little gives her first KU Commencement Address.


Filed under Education, History, Kansas, Life, Personal, Photography, University of Kansas

What a Relief!


New Madrid Fault.

I don’t have the shakes any more!  Today’s Kansas City Star reports that the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the boot heel (southeast) area of Missouri may be quieting down, which is very good news.  A series of earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone from 1811-1817 could be felt as far away as Quebec.  One of the earthquakes woke people as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk Virginia.  The few people in Kansas City at that time were tossed around in their bedrolls like popping corn.

So many cable television channels are devoting lots of airtime to possible disaster stories — asteroids, mega volcanoes, gamma ray bursts, magnetic pole flipping, climate change, you name it, it’s coming at us.  The news of real events isn’t comforting, either, with earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fires.  It’s good that we can relax a little about one possible catastrophe.

At the bottom is an explanation from the U.S. Geological Survey of the New Madrid Fault and the earthquakes it has unleashed. You can also read a lot more about the New Madrid Seismic Zone on Wikipedia by clicking here: New Madrid Fault.  Also check out the post by Gallivance noting a book about the New Madrid fault and the Mississippi River, featuring herds of squirrels on the march, a bright, forked comet and pirates!  A Comet, An Earthquake, And The End of The River Pirates

Comparison: the 1895 Charleston, Missouri, earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone with the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake. Red indicates area of structural damage, yellow indicates area where shaking was felt.

Comparison: the 1895 Charleston, Missouri, earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone with the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake. Red indicates area of structural damage, yellow indicates area where shaking was felt.

The New Madrid Fault Poses Little Threat, Scientists say

(Kansas City Star, April 13, 2009)

The New Madrid fault zone that unleashed a series of violent earthquakes in the early 19th century may be quieting down, two scientists say.

The fault line, which stretches into southeast Missouri, shows no signs of building up the stresses needed for the quakes many seismologists expect to someday rock the region again, the scientists say.

The researchers from Purdue and Northwestern universities said that may mean the little-understood New Madrid Seismic Zone is shutting down or that seismic activity is shifting to adjacent faults in the country’s midsection.

Other scientists call those conclusions premature.

 U.S. Geological Report on the New Madrid Earthquakes 1811-1812

Shortly after 2 o’clock on the morning of December 16, 1811, the Mississippi River valley was convulsed by an earthquake so severe that it awakened people in cities as distant at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia. This shock inaugurated what must have been the most frightening sequence of earthquakes ever to occur in the United States. Intermittent strong shaking continued through March 1812 and aftershocks strong enough to be felt occurred through the year 1817. The initial earthquake of December 16 was followed by two other principal shocks, one on January 23, 1812, and the other on February 7, 1812. Judging from newspaper accounts of damage to buildings, the February 7 earthquake was the biggest of the three.

In the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys the earthquakes did much more than merely awaken sleepers. The scene was one of devastation in an area which is now the southeast part of Missouri, the northeast part of Arkansas, the southwest part of Kentucky, and the northwest part of Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake, in the northwest corner of Tennessee, stands today as evidence of the might of these great earthquakes. Stumps of trees killed by the sudden submergence of the ground can still be seen in Reelfoot Lake.

Uplift of over 3 meters was reported at one locality several hundred kilometers to the southwest of the epicentral zone where a lake formed by the St. Francis River had its water replaced by sand. Numerous dead fish were found in the former lake bottom. Large fissures, so wide that they could not be crossed on horseback, were formed in the soft alluvial ground. The earthquake made previously rich prairie land unfit for farming because of deep fissures, land subsidence which converted good fields to swamps, and numerous sand blows which covered the ground with sand and mud. The heavy damage inflicted on the land by these earthquakes led Congress to pass in 1815 the first disaster relief act providing the landowners of ravaged ground with an equal amount of land in unaffected regions.

Some of the most dramatic effects of the earthquakes occurred along rivers. Entire islands disappeared, banks caved into the rivers, and fissures opened and closed in the river beds. Water spouting from these fissures produced large waves in the river. New sections of river channel were formed and old channels cut off. Many boats were capsized and an unknown number of people were drowned. There are some graphic eyewitness descriptions in contemporary newspapers made by the boatmen caught on the Mississippi River near Little Prairie, not far from the present-day town of Caruthersville, Missouri.

Although the total number of deaths resulting from the earthquakes is unknown, the toll probably was not large because the area was sparsely populated and because the log cabin type construction that was prevalent at that time withstood the shaking very well. Masonry and stone structures did not fare so well, however, and damage to them was reported at distances of 250 kilometers and more. Chimneys were thrown down in Louisville, Kentucky, about 400 kilometers from the epicentral area, and were damaged at distances of 600 kilometers.

Although it is impossible to know the precise epicentral coordinates of the earthquakes, contemporary accounts of the events suggest that the epicenter of the December 16 shock was close to the southern limit of the area of sand blows. The epicenter of the February 7 shock was closer to the northern limit of the sand blows, near the town of New Madrid, Missouri. There is not sufficient information about the second main shock on January 23 to know its epicenter. Thus the common practice of calling the entire earthquake sequence the “New Madrid earthquakes” is somewhat misleading. From what is known about the present seismicity of the area, it can be inferred that their focal depths were probably between 5 and 20 kilometers. The fault plane — or planes — on which the Earth rupture occurred are inferred to have had a NNE – SSW strike direction, more or less parallel to the Mississippi River.

The felt areas of the three largest earthquakes were extremely large. They extended south to the gulf coast, southeast to the Atlantic coast, and northeast to Quebec, Canada. The western boundary cannot be established owing to a lack of population. However, it can be estimated that the area of intensity V or greater effects was approximately 2½ million square kilometers. This can be contrasted with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for which the area of intensity V or greater effects was about 150,000 square kilometers. The large difference in felt areas between the Mississippi Valley and San Francisco earthquakes, which had approximately the same magnitude and focal depth, can be explained by differences in attenuation of earthquake waves traveling through the Earth’s outer crust. The crust in the Western United States tends to “soak up” earthquake energy, whereas in the central and eastern regions of the country the seismic energy experiences a much lower rate of absorption. Quantitative studies of recent earthquakes confirm this explanation.

Invariably the three questions that are asked when one describes the 1811-12 earthquakes are (1) could such earthquakes occur again, (2) if so, when will they happen, and (3) what would be the effect of such an earthquake if it were to occur now?

The answer to whether such earthquakes can happen again is yes. Field studies by M. L. Fuller of the United States Geological Survey published in 1912, provided topographic and geological evidence of large magnitude earthquakes predating the 1811-12 sequence. This evidence included ground cracks as large as any caused by the 1811-12 earthquakes in which trees fully 200 years old grew from the bottoms and slopes. Indications of more recent faults and of sandstone dikes filling old earthquake cracks were also found by Fuller. Futhermore, studies of the seismicity since 1812 show that the region is behaving in a manner more or less typical of active seismic zones.

The second question — when will another great earthquake happen — is much more difficult to answer. Extrapolation of magnitude and intensity recurrence curves is presently the only method of prediction available, but this is full of difficulties because the earthquake record covers far too brief a period of time and because earthquakes do not follow an exact cyclical pattern. Although extrapolations of recurrence curves for the region indicate return periods — depending on the investigator — of anywhere between about 400 to 1,000 years for an earthquake the size of the December 16, 1811 event, there is a possibility that such an earthquake might occur as soon as next year or as late as several thousand years hence.

It is easier to speculate on the effects that an earthquake the size of the 1811-12 series would have if it were to occur today than it is to predict when it will happen. In the epicentral area, a repeat of the kind of surficial damage experienced in 1811-12 can expected. However, this would result in a much greater loss of life and property today because of the much larger number of people and man-made structures in the region than were there 162 years ago. Even more awesome is the size of the area that would be affected. The dispersion of the surface waves, combined with their low attenuation, would result in a large amplitude, long duration sinusoidal type of motion with periods in the same range as the natural periods of tall buildings. Although damage to buildings located outside of the immediate earthquake zone would be mostly nonstructural in character, the monetary amount should be expected to be very large. The emotional and psychological effects of a large earthquake in the central part of the country would probably also be considerable, particularly if the earthquake had a long aftershock pattern as the 1811-12 sequence did.

Perhaps the greatest danger of all arises from the sense of complacency, or perhaps total ignorance, about the potential threat of a large earthquake. The frequency of occurrence of earthquakes the size of those that took place in 1811-12 is very low; however, continuing minor to moderate seismic activity in the central Mississippi Valley area is an indication that a large magnitude tremor can someday be expected there again.

Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 6, Number 2, March – April 1974, by Otto W. Nuttli.


Filed under History, Kansas City, Life, Personal, Science

Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.


Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Europe, Gardening, History, Humor, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel, Uncategorized