I wouldn’t ever expect most people to have their thumb on the pulse of what happens in small towns in the middle of Kansas, but today’s photograph comes from a little place called Greensburg. In May of 2007 around nine o’clock at night, an EF5 tornado tore through the city center. Estimated at 1.7 miles in width, with winds in excess of 200 mph, it was later confirmed that ninety-five percent of the entire community had been destroyed by the tornado.
The above photograph was taken on November 1st, 2012, more than five years after the devastating storm. A tremendous amount of rebuilding has been done, but there are whole grids of roads that used to be housing subdivisions that are, today, just empty lots with foundations not entirely different from this one.
I drive through this town every time I return to Kansas City from my Arizona home to visit family. I stop at the same gas station every time I pass through.
Greensburg, twelve days after the 2007 tornado.
After the tornado, the Greensburg city council passed a resolution stating that all city buildings would be built to ‘LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum’ standards, making it the first city in the nation to do so. Greensburg has been rebuilding as a “green” town, with just the right name to support the decision. At this point in time, the city’s power is supplied by ten 1.25 MW wind-turbines, which can been seen blanketing the plains outside of town.
“Lord save us all from old age and broken health and a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.”
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There’s a lone tree in a field along Kenneth Road south of the city. It’s a tiny family-owned plot of earth with a sign that proudly boasts “Welcome To Kenneth – Population 10” in drips white paint. A couple of ramshackle barns litter the adjacent field. Along the fence-line on the south end of the property is the family plot; a dozen or so headstones jut out from the island of manicured grass.
Family farms are becoming rare in the post-industrial age, but every now and again there’s a slice of land owned by hardened farm workers, proud to have held onto the family farm, and exclaim with bravado the number of generations their bloodline has worked the soil.
This place is the epitome of the Midwest – open spaces, flat fertile fields, and the whisper of the prairie wind in your ears. There’s a calm to the Great Plains that’s as unique a sensation as standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. An ocean of water flows beneath your feet. On a cloudy day at dusk, there’s electricity in the air – a current strong enough that you can feel it on your skin and the hair on your arms stands up.
There’s nothing more beautiful on this planet than looking across a field uncorrupted by concrete and automobiles, monumental spires and neon light. Our cities are a grand thing, too, but in a different way. And certainly these fields have been sculpted by human hands. But to my mind, a properly run family farm is one of the last places a person can find a healthy balance between human intervention and nature.