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The road stretched out before us up and off into the distance. Kansas roads beckon the rider to throttle up and explore what’s around the next curve or over the next hill. My wife Debbie and I were taking advantage of the first day of Autumn. The weather was perfect, blue skies, mild wind and a moderate temperature helped our V-Twin engines help us to discover what was around the next curve or over the next hill.
I had just returned from “Biker Days In The Osage” in Pawhuska, Oklahoma where I had worked my body art magic over the two days of the annual motorcycle rally. When your blood is 50 weight oil and you piss premium the sound of a motorcycle engine can drive you insane if it is not your engine. I had been exposed to the drug for two days and I was a junkie in need of a fix. So as soon as I had returned home, unloaded my mobile unit and showered my wife and I hit the road.
After a quick lunch at a local Mexican restaurant we headed north on US 75 highway then turned onto US 400 highway west towards Fredonia, Kansas. I had passed the sign a hundred times and wondered about the destination it offered; Toronto Lake State Park. Kansas is gifted with some of the most scenic lakes in the United States. Whether man made or natural Kansas lakes are breath taking. Rolling plains and forested hills let Kansas lakes lie within a natural framework of color and form not to be missed. Each one is unique and offers a new adventure for every traveler. We headed our bikes north up highway K105.
As I maneuvered my 1983 FLHT Shovel Head over the curving road I was assailed by a sea of ever changing color. I would check my mirror every once in a while to make sure my wife on her 1982 750cc Yamaha Virago was still following close behind and free of problems. After the quick check of my mirrors my attention would be drawn back to the sea of color unfolding around me. This was not the deep greens of summer nor the golden blaze of Autumn. This was a different color, not Spring nor Winter but the colors of a fifth season.
I had first started noticing this fifth season a couple of weeks back. I found it strange that being an artist I had never noticed it before. But as it revealed itself to me I found myself becoming more excited with what it had to offer my soul. I first noticed it in the thistle that grows along the fence line of fields rich in Indian corn.
As I had traveled to Pawhuska, Oklahoma for the motorcycle rally I picked up on the fifth season even more. After setting up my mobile unit on Thursday I took the time to travel north of Pawhuska to the “Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.” The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tall grass prairie left on earth. Originally spanning portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. The preserve spans 25,000 acres (approximately 38.6 square miles) and is home to over 750 plant species. Also calling the prairie home are numerous wildlife species, white tail deer, bob cat, coyote, fox, rabbit, swallows, doves, prairie chickens and more. The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve is also home to 2,500 North American Bison.
During the 18th century, these amazing animals, North America’s largest land mammals, were found from northern Canada south into Mexico and from California east into the Carolinas and Florida. Scientists have estimated the bison population at the time to be somewhere between 30 and 60 million. Early settlers reported watching bison herds that took five days to pass them by.
The bison that were saved from extinction were generally saved by ranchers. They kept them from being totally exterminated. Bison came about as close to extinction as possible. Today bison are no longer in danger of extinction; there are approximately 500,000 of them living in North America. While bison graze 23,000 acres at the preserve cattle graze the preserve’s remaining acres.
My friend Cindy, who was to be my front person for the rally, and me traveled the dusty roads of the preserve. Moving in and out of numerous Bison herds. Young calves frolicked and played along the road while cows kept a watchful eye. Young bulls fought for dominance over old bulls who quickly taught the youngsters the order of life.
We toured the preserve for a couple of hours. As we drove I was becoming more aware of the fifth season. I knew the name of the season but in my 52 years upon this earth I had never truly associated color with the season nor actually had I been able to set it into any more than a general time frame. As the sun set over the prairie my mind started organizing this fifth season into it’s place and it’s characteristic. I would finally reconcile this “Season” into it’s proper time slot on the calendar three days later as my wife and I traveled an old Kansas highway to Toronto Lake State Park.
We parked our bikes and wandered down the hill to the lake shore. Heavy rains have taken their toll on this lake lost in the Kansas back country of southwest Woodson County. Recreational areas where people once planned their weekend getaways are now under water. Beaches are washed out and piles of drift wood line the shore. Each one a sculpture carved by natures whimsy. Trails and wildlife areas have succumbed to the tranquil waters of this Verdigris river fed lake.
As we walked along the shore I spoke with my wife about the fifth season. She told me that in Michigan, where she was raised, they recognize and celebrate the season. I pondered this and decided that Michigan was probably not unique. I asked her, “But do they recognize the colors of the season?” She allowed that they probably do not.
So now as I mourn the passing of the golden colors of Autumn as they give way into the stark white of winter; As I pray for the drab gray of winter to give way to the splash of brilliant Spring color; When the last lilac petal has fallen to herald the abundance of green that blankets the Summer landscape; I will know that two weeks before the Autumnal Equinox the fifth season will creep in to paint the land in colors that remind us of the other four seasons that we so anticipate year in and year out. I will know that as sure as day follows night and night follows day that “Indian Summer” will return to fill my senses with the colors, smells, sights, sounds and feelings of the fifth season.