Autumn Walks on the Prairie

A week ago, I took myself out for a walk on the prairie. Billowing, slate-gray clouds rolled across the sky, so I knew I had to hurry. It’s a lovely drive from town out to the biological preserve, and I kept the windows open to let the cold wind blow through the car as I sang along to the radio.

It was a joyful day. Spending the afternoon with just me, the wind, and dozens of leaping grasshoppers was refreshing and invigorating.

I was surprised by the fall colors in the grassland. After all, what’s an autumn without the maples and oaks that blaze the New York hills into color? But the reds, the yellows, even the oranges were there! They’re more subtle here than in the Northeast, but the prairie was so beautiful. I finally feel that after a year of living here, I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of the rolling plains.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!


Sunday Morning

One of the many things I love about graduate school is the appreciation it gives me for free time. When real life is squeezed into the gaps between project deadlines, coursework and research, it’s a rare treat to ignore mental checklists and enjoy the natural rhythms of the day.

This week was particularly hectic. I had multiple papers due and several meetings with professors. These meetings require a lot of preparation so that I can maintain the illusion that I know what I’m doing. After a full week of school and work, my rugby team had a game on Saturday. Saturday is rugby day. Part of being on a rugby team is giving up your entire Saturday. After the game comes a social for both teams, where players eat their weight in barbecue and begin a full twelve hours of drinking. Where else can you tackle first and introduce yourself after?

When my face hit the pillow last night, the week of late nights, studying, writing, rucking, and drinking finally caught up with me. I spent a blissful eleven hours in bed. I woke at 11:00 (“morning” is subjective, right?) and met my friend for breakfast at our favorite restaurant before coming to the coffee shop to catch up on social networking and properly caffeinate myself.


So here I am, sipping my hot coffee and sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful weather. I brought some books (nothing for school!) to read and it’s difficult to express the luxury of having an afternoon and evening sprawling open before me, welcoming me to take my time and enjoy the day.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: the less free time I have, the more I appreciate it. I’m sure this is true for many people. I took a year off after undergraduate school, and during this year I worked part-time, babysat, took the GRE, and applied to graduate schools. Sounds like a lot, but it was a very unstructured lifestyle. I lived by myself and had more free time than I knew what to do with. I read a lot. My life revolved around Tuesday nights, when I anxiously waited for LOST to come on at 9. I took an inordinate amount of photos of my cats.

Seriously, this is one of thousands.

After spending a few semesters in graduate school,  I look back on that year with frustration. Why didn’t I take more advantage of this free time? There are beautiful hiking areas that I could have explored. I could have made significant progress on my writing, and I could have painted and made jewelry (two of my favorite hobbies). There were plenty of projects around my parents’ house that I could have stopped by and helped them with. I felt restless, lonely, and lazy.

So here’s my conundrum: would it have been better to be as productive as possible during those idle months, or should I have relaxed and used it as a meditative period to reflect on my life? I can beat myself up about it either way, but I think I’d be happiest somewhere in between these extremes.

I’d like to have lived that year as I’m experiencing this Sunday. Time moves more slowly on Sundays. It is more precious, more appreciated. I’ve met with friends and cherished my leisure time, but I’ve also felt inspired and creative. I’m going with the flow, but not using that as an excuse to watch three hours of Project Runway. As James Taylor said, “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”  I think that working hard and pursuing the things you love doesn’t preclude having a good time and living in the present. It’s a tricky balance to find, but it seems easiest to do on a sunny Sunday.

How do you experience Sundays? Does weekend time flow differently for you?

“I don’t want to be a minotaur if my horns have to be short and stubby.”

Here in Kansas, my friend Bryan runs a weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons that consists mostly of graduate students from the math department.

I’ve never played D&D and in high school I was pretty close-minded about it. The kids who played were the same kids who hung out at the public library and who competed on the Envirothon team (looking back, I think, “Shit! Those kids had a lot of fun.”) But after talking to a few of my  friends who regularly play D&D, I have to say, it sounds pretty bad-ass. So I’ve been bugging Bryan to let me in his game since I moved here last year. This semester, a spot opened up, and I was invited to join the group.

“Great! Let’s go,” I thought. Oh, no no no no no! You don’t just jump into a game of Dungeons and Dragons. You have to learn about the world. You have to learn about the campaign you’ll be joining. You have to create a character. As an adventurer of the imagination, you need to be trained extensively before storming castles and saving maidens. Bryan is preparing me by telling me the back-story of the world he’s created. A natural storyteller, he’s has created a complex world with a rich history and lots of juicy characters. For my D&D lessons, he had the brilliant idea to go for hikes while he fills me in on the history of this world. Last week we went on a river trail and ended up walking over 10 miles while talking about tower mages, dragons, and wizard battles. I get a kick out of seeing people’s faces as they walk by and hear, “Void magic is a particularly arcane and dangerous brand of magic, but Baraytus was able to manipulate it so that he could cross the Great Chasm by stepping on the souls of lesser mages.”

Yesterday morning, we went for a second hike. The equinox was earlier in the week, and autumn is finally falling upon Kansas. The day was beautiful; the sun was warm but gentle, and the prairie wind, so often ferociously blowing pollen in my eyes, was pleasant and cooling that morning. We walked around for about two and a half hours before heading back to town and grabbing some pizza for lunch. It’s such a great way to get away from campus for a few hours. I get to be outside, get some exercise, and be totally wrapped up in a story that takes me away from my daily responsibilities. I always love hearing stories being told out loud, it’s a nice change from reading. But I think the best part about all of this is that I’ll be able to actually weave my own character into the world! How often do you get to do that? I mean, unless you’re in the Neverending Story.

Anyway, I’m beginning to piece together a character for myself. My first idea was a minotaur… some really massive, muscly guy that hauls around a humongous hammer and gores people with his horns. Unfortunately, the back story necessarily limits the types of characters that can play. In Bryan’s world, magical creatures have been oppressed for centuries, and if I want to be a minotaur, I’m gonna have to be a subtle one. As in, shave down my horns and cover them up with a turban. But what’s a minotaur without his horns? A crotchety cow.

Do minotaurs wear pants?

Okay. So a minotaur might not be the best choice. Maybe I’ll be a valkyrie…