Sunday, June 13, 2010
Symphony in the Flint Hills
On the wagon...
On the wagon...
The banners in the humidity and South wind
The music - all photos by Anda - except for the photo of Anda by Mom
Thanks to my daughter, I had the chance to attend "Symphony in the Flint Hills" last night. Our first time but the fifth year of the event. In a celebration of the most beautiful area of Kansas, a symphony orchestra sets up out on the prairie and several thousand people come to listen. It is quite an event, grows in fame each year, and tickets sell out immediately. I had never been able to get tickets.
People come to enjoy the tall grass prairie and the beauty of the hills beneath the infinite Kansas sky. They spend a most pleasant day with horses and cowboys and wagons about, and all is blessed with the ever-present Kansas wind. It is truly an original Kansas event.
Large white tents were placed atop a long ridge, and tall standards tethering long white flags were set all along the area. The tent tops reflected shimmering silver from a long distance. The graceful flags adorned the south wind. The site appeared almost as a mirage. At first glimpse, my daughter and I felt the same anticipation every human being has ever felt arriving at a special gathering in the wide open spaces of these prairies.
Gentle people attend. Beer and wine are sold, but no public drunkenness, no whooping Kansas red necks, no one spoiling for a fight, no race or socioeconomic clashes. The sun goes down behind the gently rolling western horizon and stars appear, or lightning and lightning bugs, or all three.
Well into the concert, about sixteen cowboys on genuine working cow ponies gathered a sizable herd of cattle and moved them in a long trail across the opposite hillside. The front of the herd wanted to bolt, but some cowboys ran their ponies ahead. Those horses turned to face the oncoming steers, matching them turn for turn, slowing the herd and making the cattle go in the direction the cowboys intended.
A cowboy on a red roan appaloosa pony simply could not resist a bit of showmanship, prancing and rearing his horse before the crowd. Most cowboys work cattle and do all their cowboying far out of the sight of any appreciative greenhorn eyes. They are quietly proud of their good, hardworking cow horses. A modest show of skill before an admiring crowd is understandable.
A few cowboys rode along the temporary fence surrounding the hillside where the crowd was seated. Children and people of all ages gravitated along the fence, petting the faces of the patient horses, taking pictures and talking to the cowboys. I saw one elderly man, his back painfully bent, make his slow way to the fence. I imagined he had been a young cowboy and wanted to feel the soft nose of a cow pony and hear the creak of damp leather again. (Of course that is pure imagination, but why else would an old, crippled man make his way down such a steep and rocky hillside?)
It was an entirely unexpected gift handed to my daughter when those tickets were placed in her hand yesterday. I was enjoying myself immensely. I anxiously searched out the field journals created specifically for the event because I definitely wanted to buy one. The journals were artistic and beautiful, and contained chapters on everything about the Flint Hills except for a single mention of the Indians, the people who were here first. I simply could not stop the feeling of outrage spreading from my belly. How can hundreds of decent human beings put on such a great party celebrating this beautiful, unique area but absolutely ignore the people from which this land was taken? I was greatly dismayed. The journal was celebrating the Flint Hills, the beauty, the ranch culture, the long colorful history of the area, but apparently history began a mere 150 years ago. Bison were included, but not Indians. It was as if cowboys had simply appeared by magic in this magnificent emerald land. I was almost sick to my stomach.
I felt bad for my daughter because she was having a great time until I began bitching and moaning over this tiny little oversight committed by all the white people in charge of Symphony in the Flint Hills. I tried hard to tone it down but I simply could not see the event in the same light as when we first arrived. When we set up our chairs on the hillside in anticipation of the music, I tried to let the green and graceful beauty of the place calm me, give me perspective.
Then, the governor of the great state of Kansas took the stage. He gave a rousing speech to kick off the evening's festivities. It was a speech all about cowboys, and Flint Hills, and every Kansas college and university except Haskell, the Indian university located in Lawrence, where Quantrill's Civil War raid left over 200 dead because Missouri wanted Kansas to be a slave state, which the Governor DID mention. It was a perfect politician's speech suited to the occasion, but once again, the history of the Flint Hills began 150 years ago, when apparently a Christian God dropped white people into an empty landscape.
I thought of my son, one quarter Potawatomi by the white man's blood quantum. Leonard McKinney once said to me, "Your son is op-toh-zi [half] but which half is Indin'?" I thought of my son's Potawatomi grandmother and his father, and aunts and uncles and cousins, and all the Potawatomi who were given this land by treaty after it was taken from the Kansa. The Kansa were herded like cattle on foot from their diminished reserve in Council Grove, south to Oklahoma. Their trail of tears quite likely passes not far from where the Governor was standing, rah-rahing for the white people on such a festive night.
I thought of Patti, and her sons, and all her relation. I thought of all the Indians I love, and it brought tears to my eyes. So, I put a pinch of tobacco on the earth and assured the spirits I still remembered them. I offered a prayer for all the Indians who are still alive and well right here in Kansas, including my son. (It is quite a shock for white people to discover a few Indians made it through the genocide.) And, I told myself, someone will eventually come along and rub out the white people, too. That made me feel much better and I was able to shake off the anger and sense of outrage. I was able to enjoy myself and be good company for my daughter the rest of the night.
After the concert, which was wonderful, my daughter and I chose to walk all the way back to the parking lot instead of standing in line for an hour or two for the shuttle. I was huffing and puffing and sweating in the 90% humidity and well, maybe I was complaining about the long walk. I said we had to just keep slogging through and we would make it, and my daughter said, "Just like the Indians."