We have arrived in a land of straight roads, golden fields, and stories of a young girl named Dorothy. I kiss a seven-foot bodice of the tin man. We are tempted to drive south to Sedan and visit an actual “yellow brick road.” While there is no escaping the wonderful tale of Oz, we soon realize that Kansas has more to offer than accounts of flying monkeys. For instance, the town of Goodland displays a 768 square foot replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflower painting, on an eighty-foot easel!
We locate a stone, which marks where the Donner family lost their first member in their heroic trip west. In the same area, a shaded creek presents carvings in boulders that remain from Oregon bound travelers, Mormons and California gold seekers. As 1980’s babies, there is a nostalgic nod to the 8-bit MS-DOS computer game we played in elementary school where we could lead our own settlers across the Oregon Trail. In reality, each had a different motivation, but all were lead (many to their deaths) by the same “pursuit of happiness” that still drives so many today.
Portioned off prairie, surveyed and claimed back in 1862, are now thriving croplands. Porch swings appear on every stoop, waiting to reward their hard working owners for another day of labor. While dilapidated silos and deserted mills represent today’s struggle for small town survival, to many the Midwest has long been a source of the American dream. We read of families who set out to claim “free land” with the Homestead Act, and European immigrants who traveled in search of ‘streets of gold.’
The only gold we come across is found in fields of proud sunflowers, but throughout our week, we are reminded of a land filled with opportunity. My thoughts are turned to today, where an entire generation is trained to follow the same path, while expecting different outcomes. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? When does it become okay to stop wishing and to risk something great to achieve something greater? We don’t know if we will make it, but this journey is an example of taking hold of those dreams despite society’s expectations.
In Lawrence at “Signs of Life Gallery, we meet with the only gallery owner so far who refuses to sign our project agreement. The exhibit space is beautiful, and the owner is awesome and loves the work, so we eventually agree to the option of “selling the painting upon contingency.” To be honest, I am still unclear of what it means, but my twenty-three-year old, strong-willed self is learning on this voyage that sometimes it is necessary to be flexible in order to appease the parties involved. As a gallery owner, he may just prefer using his contract because he is familiar with it. As an artist, I am receiving the same benefits so the end result is the same. However, our discussion becomes lengthy so we find a parking ticket in our windshield upon leaving. I wonder if it is a “sign” …open the envelope…we owe $2 to the town of Lawrence. If it is a sign, it is certainly not a bad one. And off we travel to the 20th state on this 50 state journey.