What Sleeping in Kansas Taught Me About Mindset

The author recounts an unexpected experience in Kansas feeling a peace and calm available only to those willing to step past the stereotypes of a place easy to pass. Instead, it becomes a protest of needing to see the world in any other way than what it actually is...
A Cow-Filled Field in Kansas Becomes a Lesson in Presence

If you’ve ever driven across the state of Kansas, you know it’s a “beast” and one you just have to “get through.”

Or is it?

Sure it’s flat and well, flat. Sure it might be home to more than you’d like of your less-than-favorite political label. There’s a lot about Kansas you think you know, other than it’s a long part of the drive on the way to some other elsewhere.

But, could Kansas hold the key to something we’re missing?

An Unlikely Oasis

The Tree Grove at Lake I-Can’t Remember

I was traveling back across the country sooner than expected. I had decided that the west coast wasn’t so much for me and that chasing a love I’d made up in my mind was worth giving up all I’d thought I wanted.

But I digress, to the grove of trees in the late-summer of 2019 where I found a peace, a calm, and a beauty in Kansas I’d never thought existed. The de facto narrative surrounding Kansas, and correct me if I’m wrong, is one of “just passing by.” If you’ve made the drive, you know what people say about the passerby state.

What people say, versus what is, is the point if this article.

But first, I have a moral objection to paying for places to sleep. Ok, maybe it’s just that I don’t have the money, but regardless, I find the effort and creativity of sleeping for free to be rewarding in more ways than one. On that note, freecampsites.net has on more than one occasion proven to be an invaluable asset to those nomadically inclined. If you have the ability to sleep in your car, or aren’t afraid to pitch and sleep in a tent in a semi-public place, you can quite literally, sleep for free in nearly all parts of the country.

I had found this “state park” on the website and while it ended up being further from the highway that I might’ve liked, I pulled in nearing dusk and, stopping for the first time since exiting the mountainous western U.S., felt stillness.

A Quiet I Hadn’t Heard Nor Felt Before

Sure you can find peace and quiet nearly anywhere, but anywhere, isn’t Kansas. The remote nature and open-space creates a stillness I hadn’t felt even in the more remote mountainous regions of Oregon. There was something otherwordly calm about this lake oasis plopped in the middle of a sea of fields.

Imagine: An effortless calm. It’s likely how I’d best describe it. Had I stayed at a hotel on my way to heartbreak, I’d never had the chance to learn the secret that Kansas had to tell. Those who said it’s not worth noticing….they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Gratitude for Things You’d Never Expect

The campground itself was varied in site. I chose the tree grove, knowing it might shield me from a slight rain that would confine me to changing clothes within a tight space inside my Volvo wagon. If there’s one thing living on the road has taught me, it’s to never lose the gratitude of an overhead covering, because only when you need one do you realize how easily a thankful feeling for such simplicity comes to pass.

Gratitude comes easy in challenging times. Simple things like having a roof over your head come to light, often times for the first time in life. You start to have different feelings from sources you’d never expect, and choosing the stray from the beaten path, is the entry into a whole new realm of feeling.

An Unforgettable Feeling

Bovine Pastures ©Hunter Armstrong Brankamp

That field. That field in the picture in the corner of the pasture the cows know so well and share only with the lucky few who venture so far off the beaten path, to see and feel a calm only Kansas can provide.

I feel lucky, to now even years later as this article finds its place in the cosmic clockwork of creation, to recount this feeling. Years before I might’ve just kept on driving. There was something there. I had to stop. It was calling me.

I’ll never forget that calm. No cars, no planes. Only the whisper of the wind and the glares of a cow alert to my presence. I wish could I could fully describe that feeling.

Kansas Took…and Gave to me.

Kansas stripped away something from me. It’s easily seen as a passerby-place, and that’s really all you ever really hear. That’s the point of this article.

If I had allowed the collective narrative to filter into my perception, I might’ve only seen what everyone else tells me to see. Instead, I was given the chance to see Kansas for what it is. It was a reminder to be aware of the narratives that others so often push upon me because, they might just want to feel like they know what we’re talking about.

It feels good to feel like you belong to the group, but the group is usually massively missing the bigger, more accurate picture.

Easy to Compare, Hard to See.

The truth is, I’ll never forget the peace of that moment. I see now what might bring someone to a place like Kansas, or at least what might cause a lucky someone to never leave. Comparing this place, this peaceful-beyond-measure place, to anywhere else might surely be a way to reaffirm some value of a place that exists within us…but what happens when all that’s stripped away?

What happens when we say, “I don’t need to judge this place to prove to myself I live somewhere ‘better for who’.” Who in the fuck are we to decide the value of any given moment at the expense of someone else anyways?

Protest the Narrative.

Oil Painting c.2019 ©Artist: Hunter Armstrong Brankamp

Kansas is beautiful. An oil painting of stillness in motion. It’s a place for those in love with being, who understand it’s possible to return to being a person who needs less than what we think to be happy.

This photo is a protest.

Against being anything other than what we are, needing to see things any other way than what they are, and instead learn to let go of all we think we need to be.

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If you’re driving through Kansas and are really inclined to know where this place might be, I can likely find it again and tell you. Trust me, if you’re reading this, you’re worth it. Email me at hunter@riseblog.com for details.